I wish that I meant this in a cool way. Any of the cool ways, really — guitar playing, snowboarding, skateboarding, or even in the gym. But right now I mean it — conspicuously — literally.
Last year, before we moved in June, Michael and I sorted through our paperwork and realized that we had gobs. Mounds. Tons. Way too much. So we (mostly he, but I did a little) used his document shredder to create 7 or 8 lawn-n-leaf sized bags of shredded papers. And then we moved.
Once we were here, we discovered plenty more that could’ve/should’ve been disposed of. So we did what all responsible adults do. We sorted it out, stacked it up neatly and carefully moved the piles into my office closet and shut the door. Done!
Every time I looked in that closet, the pile stared at me. I just couldn’t bring myself to the task of shredding again so soon. So, I did the right thing and stopped looking in the closet!
Fast forward to this week.
On Sunday, I decided that with my University classes starting soon, I wanted to rearrange my office by bringing in a different desk with more space to study. So Michael did the heavy lifting and then left me to finish the job. What started as a desk swap quickly became The Purge.
For the first time since moving in, I was taking a hard look at my office. It had become a dumping grounds. Gift wrapping, boxes and bags, paperwork, baskets, bins, the list goes on. This kind of clutter bugs me. Deeply. So much so that I rarely use my office. But if I hate it so much, why do I do it? Why do I hold on to things? I’ll get to that.
First, I started to clean up this overcrowded excuse for work space. I began with the desk drawers, which led to bookshelves, then to the filing cabinet and ultimately … the dreaded closet.
Last summer on vacation I read Marie Kondo’s book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and it was life changing, in some ways. I came home from that vacation and pared down and tried to follow the “rule:” keep it only if it brings joy when you touch it. But it wasn’t that simple.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Marie is single. And without kids. And lives in a flat in Tokyo without a basement or garage. Because this rule is, in a word, impractical.
Also impractical is her advice to daily unpack your purse, briefcase, backpack or whatever personal items you carry about to work, school, the gym, etc. Literally daily. She believes that items that stay in use break down too quickly. So, daily, she recommends that you come home and take the contents of your purse out of the purse and store them (and the purse) in a designated drawer. Then repack your purse the next morning.
Marie simply has too much time on her hands.
You see, my screwdriver set does not bring me joy. And as far as my purse goes, it has a hook. There. Handled. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.
This book did help me get rid of some material clutter, but it was more helpful in allowing me to get rid of mental clutter. It led me to a year of introspection. And I’ve made some observations.
I’ve been stuck in this “just in case” mindset.
And it has served me well. For decades, had there been a basket emergency, I would’ve been a real hero. I’d fly to the scene with a wide variety of sizes and colors to offer. Some could hang on the wall. Some could be stacked. No matter the job, I’d be there to save the day!
It really is about that silly.
It turns out that I feel like “stuff” makes me resourceful. After all, it’s useful stuff. But, alas, a stack of baskets in the corner is useful only to spiders and dust.
What I’m realizing is that I am enough without my material backup. I am resourceful on my own. I am creative. I have good ideas. I am capable.
So my car is now full of a giant load to, well, unload.
I read a guideline once that says: if there is an item that can be replaced in less than 20 minutes and for less than $20, pitch it. And that sort of works, particularly in the baskets and bins arena. But there’s one place that it markedly does not work: my kids’ memorabilia, and my reason for holding on to it is altogether different.
I did a first round purge last year before moving. I went from five large 20-gallon bins down to two — one for each kid. But I need to do more.
Some might say, what does it hurt? They’re just bins in the basement. The answer is that the bins aren’t hurting a thing. But what they represent is: living in the past.
No amount of adorable drawings will make my Zachy 5 again. And no number of soccer group photos will bring back the days when Aspen wanted to be the next Mia Hamm.
Now, there’s no harm in holding onto a few reminders of what Picassos and Peles they were, but the best reminder of the kind of kids they were is seeing the kind of wonderful people they are today. And the person I am today. And the family we are today.
Letting go is necessary to live in the present. I’ve written about it before. Letting go is hard, but today, I’m shredding it!
Be like Fernando
I have a book called Guiding Yoga’s Light. I do this thing where I take the book and fan through the pages till I stop on a page that feels right, no peeking allowed. Today, I landed on a page about learning to be peaceful. It couldn’t have come at a better time, and I am certain it was no accident.
Just yesterday, I was ready to pull out my hair in frustration over the things I’ve had to do this week. None of it was particularly difficult, there was just a lot of it. We were on vacation for five weeks and then Zach’s birthday came so it’s been since mid-June that I’ve been regularly attending to matters.
I had a large stack of mail to sort through, tuition to pay, medical bills to address, and more. The majority of tasks went well. But there was this one that made me crazy. I ran into a bunch of “not my department” people on the phone. Over the course of four days, I got passed around, given bad information and generally lost faith in humanity.
Why did it bother me so much? I mean, I wasn’t ready to jump off a bridge, but it got my panties in a bunch in serious way.
It’s the lesson I’m continuing to learn: patience. Part of me sometimes thinks that you’re either born with it or you’re doomed to be challenged by it. I’m in the latter group.
So today, I meditated on it. I breathed in “I am peaceful,” and I exhaled “I am calm,” silently, in my mind for 15 minutes. On the Peaceful/Calm Spectrum from Dali Lama to OCD squirrel, my mind is closer to squirrel. But I didn’t judge. I just came back to the breath each and every time my mind wandered — which was a lot in a short 15 minutes. Each time, I breathed in, I thought “I am peaceful” and when I breathed out, I thought “I am calm.” And that will be my mantra for remaining patient when I start to lose my shit.
It’s funny how when big things are happening to me, I’m very able to keep my cool. I can quickly and effectively sort out the important from the banal. Friends, you want me on that island with you.
But when that on-hold music blasts in my ear for the third time, I could break something. And that’s not good.
I have this frog statue in my yoga/meditation space and I love him. I’ve written about him before, when Kerrianne gave him to me. His name is Fernando. He exudes peace. He has no cares or concerns. He has no stuff. He’s just Fernando. And I could learn a lot from him.