It’s a spiritual journey…

I had planned this day at the heart of the luxurious midsummer 4th of July long weekend to be my one completely unscheduled day.  A day to do nothing at all “by the clock” while my mind ran free to walk, to write, to read.

Lo and behold, at eight thirty this morning, my husband precipitously invited a couple I don’t know well (the wife is accustomed to having a housekeeper) to come over for a noon visit.  The house hasn’t been vacuumed since May, the bathroom …, yesterday my cat deposited hairballs on the comforter, and there are absolutely no snacks or drinks in the cupboard.

The key to serenity, I am convinced, is to eschew tantrums through a process of mental decluttering.  After a short rant among trusted friends…

… I threw out any notion that preparatory house cleaning or worries about entertaining preparations are in any way, shape, or form my responsibility.

… and I determined to salvage as much good stuff as possible.

So, while this post isn’t the post that’s been deliciously marinating in the back of my mind in anticipation of today’s unfettered writing time, it is a post that has something to say and I’ve enjoyed the work of letting it say what it wants to.

And my husband has vacuumed the living room, mopped the kitchen floor and cleaned the bathroom while I have been writing it.  (I’d already thrown the comforter in the laundry.)

The excuse for this incursion is that the new bride is bringing us some soup she wants us to believe that she promised us.  I’ll respond by serving that up for a light lunch they dare not refuse…

If I decide to go that route.

 

Detachment with Love

This post is not about clearing out a basement or sifting through a closet.  Rather it is about clearing rubbish out of my thinking — about beginning to exercise the Lost Art of Making Sense.

Since November 9, 2016 dawned cementing the news that a racist, a mocker of the disabled, a robber of workmen, an adulterer, a mocker of science, a homophobe, an ignorant bloviator, in short Donald Trump, had been elevated to the presidency by an electorate who was willing to ignore all those qualities and run the country off a cliff…

Many commentators have made it quite clear that I am supposed to immerse myself in guilt for having failed to quell the fears, to heal the pain, to solve the problems of my fellow men (intentionally: “men”) who chose to release their festering pus on election day and loose infectious hatred upon themselves and everyone else.

This doesn’t jive.

I am responsible for feeding, clothing, and sheltering myself and those weaker than I am.  I am responsible for turning my other cheek and for not burning down the homes and villages of people who steal from me and lie about me.  I am responsible for loving the Lord my God and my neighbor as myself — and for not killing them, for not sleeping with their husbands (or wives), for not stealing from them or lying about them, and finally, even for not wishing I had what they have….

But I am not responsible for understanding, or accepting their choice anymore than I have ever expected them to understand how much I detest their choice, or arrive at mine.  Those who expect and demand my magnanimity don’t ever mention that they might try to understand my point of view either.

The decluttering here is to shed the life-long, knee-jerk inclination to bang my head against a brick wall trying to make myself understood and to replace it with a fierce determination — perhaps even stronger than theirs — to walk toward my own dignity — a dignity which in no way lessens their safety or security either.  Come with me if you will.

From those who won’t, I detach.  With love.

Decluttered Time

I’m a mathematician by trade and I love patterns.  As a kid I could spend an hour organizing a box of dominoes into satisfyingly ordered arrays.  I loved connect-the-dots puzzles, find the hidden objects puzzles, tracing out the maze puzzles…

I enjoyed crossword puzzles for years until my stalled cultural literacy stopped my understanding half the clues.  Then I discovered Sudoku.

I moved online and began to seek out the videos that explained Candy Crush Saga goals and strategies…

But when I discovered Bejewelled Blitz it was all over.

I loved playing the changing boards again and again as many times as I wanted.  I loved the explosions, the bonuses, the accumulation of coins to spend on options for bigger explosions.  The first time I achieved a “blazing” level I was thrilled.  I developed a feel for how to keep track of more of the board at once and to work out a bit of strategy.

Best of all, unlike with any of the other games, while playing, I could unwind parts of my mind and tap into creative mental space and work out strategies to apply to other goals.

But I had to face it.  The ideas weaving themselves in imagination weren’t coming to fruition.  Thinking about my plans and goals had become the background for the pursuit of more bonuses, more coins or higher levels.  The relaxation provided by the game was no longer in service to honing my plans.

So I woke up and just said no.  I stopped playing and deleted the apps from my devices.  And I found….

Decluttered time!   Time for Decluttering…

I cleaned up two of my email accounts.
I planned and started a new blog.
I thought through a work situation, wrote up my thoughts and sent them to the appropriate recipient.
I caught up on my grading.
I cleared a teetering mess of neglected papers and was rewarded by finding a  forgotten bill in time to pay it before the penalty date had passed.
I baked a cake and sailed through a mountain of laundry.
I overheated my shredder, filled the recycle box and…

I wrote a letter to my father.

Subtleties

Yes.
Although the once-through has been finished in all the accessible parts of the house, besides the garage there are two deep storage areas full of unsorted stuff.  These are accessible only from outside the house and anything we would want to remove would have to be hauled up the mountain slope of our lot.

So we’ve taken a break from going through stuff to have new gutters and downspouts installed and the exterior of the house painted, all to be completed before the winter rains arrive.  Maybe next month.

But as I was enjoying this break from decluttering….

(Although the hauling off of those broken rusted out gutters and downspouts was a great decluttering; and those piles peeled paint and decades of dirt power washed from the house were another…)

…I was also facing the specter of a dwindling cushion of savings.

It didn’t help that adumbrations of unpredictable yet plausible future demands on our savings flickered on the horizon, an example of decluttering and simplification one does not view with equanimity.

If I were a more cheerful ascetic, perhaps I could have transformed my fears into commitment to follow a (presumed) call to live a more deeply spiritually and less materially focused life.

But I knew I must set about decluttering my fears exactly as I have decluttered cupboards, closets, and crawl spaces: by opening them up to examination, discarding useless broken thinking, then making plans to implement any useful ideas.

In particular, I asked for help from a professional who understands these not-totally-unpredictable future demands, I settled down to “do the math” and estimated worst (and best) case scenario liability, I filed appropriate paperwork, and generally resolved to face it all “one box at a time” one day at a time.  And I learned that we’ll be alright.

Yes!  we’ll be alright.

And in the end, the house is worth more with a good coat of paint and a serviceable gutter system.  And realistically, we shouldn’t have to redo either the painting or gutters ever again for as long as we own the house.

Next summer we’ll declutter our elderly roofing.

Paperclips to Rabbits – part two

Decluttering is usually regarded as an exercise in throwing stuff away …

But my session with the Christmas decor had very much not been simply about tossing stuff out of my house.

What I’ve come to call “Second Round Decluttering,” the decluttering that comes after the obvious trash has been  removed, is All About relocating herds of velveteen rabbits into their next briar patch; of finding good homes for the mementoes of once-living hopes, dreams, and plans.  Sometimes those mementoes were our own.  Sometimes we’re decluttering the memories of a life which has ended.

The day after we released six boxes of no-longer-wanted Christmas decor I was still reeling from my eye-opening encounter with those metaphorically – or maybe magically – alive rabbits; still grateful that we’d found the right and respectful way to honor the woman for whom they’d meant something.

While we were out and about on a round of errands, I excused myself from a session involving a hardware store and stepped into a resale shop next door, a benefit project for a local private school.  The store was well-organized but so stuffed with stuff that it took me ten minutes to discover the piano for sale up against the back wall

I walked the aisles of this store with my new eyes, aware that every piece of merchandise held stories, memories of someone’s love and hopes.

There was a shelf full of clean, well-appointed white teddybears in all sorts of sizes, many accessorized with red and green Christmas wear.  I stopped to marvel at their softly gleaming pelts that begged to be stroked and hugged… when a strange face emerged from among them.

It was a fluffy white bunny, harbinger of Easter and rebirth, its soft curly whiteness oddly juxtaposed against those furry guardians of Christmas!

My heart leapt as I lifted it down and felt its lucky rabbit feet.  “Seventy-five cents,” read the bit of masking tape stuck in its ear.

“You have a new home,” I whispered to Snowball my very much alive rabbit.  As soon as we were safely outside, I pulled the tape from his ear….

Decluttering Illusions

Once upon a time I shook hands on a free-lance assignment to begin four months later.  Before the handshake the contractor and I agreed upon the duties, venue, hours and pay scale.  But the contractor’s internal procedures prohibited finalizing any of it in written form.  We clarified the steps I would need to take before the assignment could be formally contracted and over the succeeding months I completed all of them.  So, confident that the foundation was well-laid, I began to prepare to discharge the assignment once the time arrived.

To prepare, I needed some things from the contractor.  But emails went unanswered and phone calls resulted in conflicting answers from administrators who lacked authority.  Finally, toward the end of this circus I learned that my not-quite-contracted assignment had been reduced by half .  The contractor “regretted any inconvenience.”

And it was not because the work had dried up.  Rather, half of the work we’d agreed I would do had been shifted to a better-known, possibly cheaper, freelancer who came on the scene after I had.

That’s a bummer; but why write about it in a blog about decluttering?

Because… It took Forty-Eight Hours of hard emotional work to free my mind of the blinding illusion that I had any obligation to these folks, or that I wanted to work for them.

I had to recognize that the half-job was not-(even yet)-officially-contracted and could still disappear as easily as the first half had……

I had to face that I would be working alongside people who preferred to work with someone else and who had reneged on an existing agreement to make sure they could.

I had to grasp that devastating realization that none of this was an accident; they had chosen to do what they did.

I had to negotiate with all the demons that stood  in the way of Just Saying “No.”

It took five staunch friends to help me declutter my mind of these illusions so make no mistake, this was a major and difficult decluttering.  It’ll take, by way of comparison, that many movers to clear my living room of my husband’s deceased first wife’s piano — should that time ever arrive.

…..

About five seconds after I declined, in writing, to do any work at all for them, the contractor assured me that I need have no worries, they’d get the remaining work covered.

 

Taking This Show On the Road

A few days ago I had a message from a reader who loved my motto,”Just Get Rid Of It.”

The writer explained the great benefits of creating good digital photos of the memories then just getting rid of the stuff.  Digital photos don’t take up space…

That same day I saw pictures of art created from someone’s mother’s old costume jewelry.  That writer loved having all the memories collected into a compact and beautiful piece.

And once I knew someone who would get rid of the trappings of time past by carefully burning them while praying for those who had gone on.

The interesting thing is the writer had picked up that “motto” from a story in which I was writing about the difficulties of Just Getting Rid Of Stuff when opinions within a family may differ about the trash vs. the treasures.

On the other hand, I do tend to be unsentimental about physical emblems of my history; these days I do tend to get rid of stuff before it becomes clutter.  The important thing for each declutterer, I believe, is to honor the memories, and all who share them, while releasing the stuff.

A few weeks ago an old friend offered me my first job as a decluttering consultant.  Literally.  She started the conversation by asking what I would charge to come help her dispatch stuff from two homes and some outbuildings in preparation for putting the property on the market…

WELL!  The imp on my shoulder immediately assured me that I am a SCHOLAR of decluttering, a pundit, a writer of blogposts! and not someone who would actually go into the business physically decluttering other people’s stuff!  The apprentice imp beside him whispered reminders that I shouldn’t forget that still have three more deep storage areas of my own to tend to this summer!

Well.

Of course I’m heading out to help my friend!

She’s my FRIEND…

By the time you read this I will be off in a land with only spotty Internet, helping her to sort a lifetime of belongings memories into Things to Sell, Things to Donate, Things to Store (Because the Kids SAID They Want Them), a very few Things to Keep, and Things to Trash.

But I do NOT intend to make a business of this….

(“SURE you don’t!!!!!,” jibes the imp on my shoulder.)