Thursday, 26 May 2011

One box at a time

Yesterday I took this box of toys to the post office and shipped it to my eight-month-old nephews. 

Do I feel good about this? 

I feel good imagining their faces when they open up an entire box of new toys! I feel good that my two-year-old participated in selecting the toys to send to his cousins and came to the post office with me ("I don't want to go to the post office!"). 

I feel a little bit good that they're out of our house.

But mostly I feel bad about all the clutter that's here. I feel bad that my house remains full of other toys. I feel bad that toys are the least of my worries.

How about clothes, mountains of clothes...

Papers, stacks of papers...

How is it that I want to get rid of all this stuff and I sit here not doing it?

I am overwhelmed. I am afraid to dive in. And I am also trying to make other changes too -- daily meditation and exercise and adequate sleep.

So I am posting this little box of toys to stay focused on the positive. To remind myself that things are moving out, even if they're moving at an incredibly slow trickle.

Yes, it's just a box. But it's moving in the right direction.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

A red-hot bundle of clutter

Yesterday I started reading Brooks Palmer's book Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What's Holding You Back. It's hard to put down.

I was inspired to get rid of a small but emotionally powerful bundle of clutter.

For several years, I've had a scrapbook hidden in the back of an armoire, wrapped in a shopping bag, and sealed with packing tape.

The scrapbook contained photos and notes from some parties I hosted with a former boyfriend a long, long time ago. In a way, those were good times, at least on Saturday nights. We got together with friends, conversed, turned up the music, and danced. But those good times were a distraction from the fact that I was in a terrible relationship. The good times prolonged the relationship. And, ultimately, the good times emphasized the fact that the relationship was not good.

When I finally ended the relationship, I kept the scrapbook. The scrapbook wasn't about the relationship; it was about a circle of friends. But breaking up the relationship broke the circle. Today, I'm in regular contact with just one of those people. 

My life changed dramatically, and the scrapbook became a reminder of an unhappy chapter in my past. I felt some attachment to that part of my life, but I wanted to distance myself from it too. I remember thinking that I didn't know why I was keeping the scrapbook, even as I sealed it up and tucked it away. Today I realized that it was clutter and I decided to let it go. 

I started by re-reading the scrapbook. I laughed at a quote or two, remembered some songs I haven't heard in a while (whatever happened to Natalie Imbruglia?), and studied the snapshots. Tucked inside, I found a Valentine's Day card from the ex-boyfriend in question. 

I threw out the photos. Then I crumpled up the scrapbook pages, tossed them in the fireplace, and lit a match.

When the flames burned out, I realized that I'd overlooked the card. I tossed it onto the ashes and waited. Eventually it caught fire and burned just like a letter in a soap opera fireplace. First a few black spots emerged around the edges. Then the cover lifted opened a little, revealing an orange glow inside. Finally the lavender heart on the cover turned red-hot as flames burst through its centre and engulfed the card. It was so amusingly picture-perfect that I kind of wished I had a video-camera in hand. "Cut!" I would say,  "That's a wrap."

Who knew that burning an old valentine could make me feel lighter? I mean no disrespect to the person who gave it to me, but it is a relief to part with the past. To make room for the present and future.

I feel happy, and a little bit freer. 

The only page of the scrapbook I kept is a garden sketch I drew back then, an unusual and inspiring burst of creative energy that's full of ideas I can use today.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Backyard 'bust

Despite the tremendous motivational boost of last weekend's giveaway day, I haven't been doing any clutterbusting this week. The urge to purge is there, but I'm trying to focus on one thing at a time, and this week it's my garden.
This afternoon is all about my very favourite kind of purging: pruning. Time stands still for me when I'm wielding my pruning shears. It's like alchemy, sculpting an overgrown bush into an elegant shrub with space to breathe, space to grow, space to blossom. I love it.
On a related note, less of an art, less of a joy, but definitely all about the purge: weeding. I don't love that at all, but there's a little bit of satisfaction in the results.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Giveaway Day Revisited

In the paper today, a columnist complains that for some people our local giveaway day was, "more about greed than about need." In his opinion, those people are a little too zealous and indiscriminate when picking up others' giveaways.
The people who pick things up on giveaway day are doing the rest of us a favour! They're keeping stuff out of the landfill and keeping clutter out of our homes.
If anything, I felt guilty offering my clutter to others. It felt a little like kicking a bad habit and giving the leftovers to someone else. Of course, I still have a long way to go before I get to the bottom of my clutter habit.
In the meantime, it feels so good to be rid of a bit of it!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Giveaway Day: Snoopy bye-bye

I did it! I finally ditched some stuff!

Clutterbusting (or the lack thereof) is bringing home some ugly truths. Like the fact that I have next to no internal motivation. It's not so much that I procrastinate, as that I have a million things to do at the same time. Yes, I want to be able to see across my basement. But first I should put in this load of laundry, buy some groceries, pay some bills, cook some supper, play hockey with my son, read, write, and, um, anything's more urgent than going through my stuff. 

Anyway, thanks to our city's semi-annual giveaway day, I was motivated to get rid of a pile of it.  

On this important day in our civic calendar, citizens are invited to put out unwanted items for one another. I'd love to see satellite imagery of this event, but from the ground it goes something like this. Shortly after dawn, people scurry between house and curb, furtively dragging debris to the edge of the road. Then, the vehicles come. Streets are clogged with minivans, drivers scanning anxiously, children dispatched from rear seats to retrieve treasures from the roadsides, ugly sofas wedged in back. As evening nears, the scavengers dwindle. By nightfall the curbs are picked clean. Any items set out after the giveaway day will remain, untouched, until garbage day; apparently it's no longer socially acceptable to pick up trash in the absence of a special picking event.

This was my first participation in giveaway day.

Preparation began on Friday, when I gathered dozens of unused items and gathered them on the dining room table, for a final viewing. 

On Saturday morning, I spread an old sheet next to the road and arranged an armful of old dishes. I felt like a fool. As I walked back to my door I thought, "This is pathetic. I'll be putting this stuff in the garbage on Sunday. Who would want this crap?" Just then, two cars stopped and their drivers began to review my offerings. I felt shame, rejection.

Returning to the sheet with another load of stuff, I was shocked to discover that some of the dishes were gone! Even more amazing, the first dishes to go were the ones that I had made myself.

By the end of the day, there was nothing left in front of our house. 

The easiest piece to part with was the "brie baker" I got for Christmas. It turns out that a brie baker is just a pot. A pot that's exactly the same size as one we already had. 

The hardest thing for me to part with was a broken Snoopy mug captioned, "No one understands my generation either." An uncle gave this to me in the 1970's, when I was perhaps five years old. I remember my mother trying to explain to me what a generation was. It had something to do with people born at the same time, she said, so why were my baby brother and I part of the same generation? This was mind-boggling. The handle broke off the mug almost as soon as I received it, was repaired, and broke again shortly thereafter. But I couldn't part with the mug until now.

I feel sad as I reflect upon this... I have to remind myself that losing the mug doesn't change the past. That if I could go back in time, my mother and I would still be there, in that room, having that conversation. I'm not sure why this is so hard to believe, but perhaps it's because she's gone. Having that mug wouldn't bring her any closer.

Maybe down the street another child is having a conversation with his or her mom about the mug. I like to think so. Even if that mom is encouraging her child to throw that broken mug away! 

Monday, 2 May 2011

Clutter Busting with Brooks Palmer: Lighten Up

Brooks Palmer writes in his blog Clutter Busting with Brooks Palmer: Lighten Up: "It's impossible to relax in a room that is filled with clutter. No matter how nicely you arrange or hide things."

So, so true. This describes my whole home. Occasionally surface-tidy; turmoil behind closed doors. 

Brooks Palmer goes on to say, "I try and find the clutter hiding places first because they cause so much psychic disruption, that if they are dealt with, the rest of the clutter goes quickly."

If you build it they will come.

I was motivated to de-clutter our guest room by the impending arrival of our friend S, who left a week ago. Now my aunt J arrives this evening, and yet another guest will arrive the day after she leaves. Good news travels fast.

Since we are between guests, this seems a good time to take some "after" photos of my de-cluttered guest room. Yeah, yeah, it's my only de-cluttered room. Clutterbuster's motivation is building slowly.

First, here's a "before" shot:

And here are the "after" shots:

This room is about a million times more flowery than the rest of our house. But that's okay. What I like about it is that it gives me a spot to use some sentimental things that don't fit into our daily life.

Like my grandmother's antique blanket which I love.

My favourite things in the room are my vintage wall-vases. I collected them over a ten year span, until I had all three colours, only to leave them in a pile of unopened eBay purchases in the back of my closet. (Gasp!)

I'm so glad to have them up on the wall, where I can see their happy colours.

And now that I've opened all those eBay boxes, and thrown out a ton of styrofoam peanuts and bubble-wrap, I can see that there are some that I will use and some that I will resell. Alan Compton-collectors get ready to bid and bid high! I've never sold on eBay before and I'm excited about getting rid of things and getting something for it.

In the course of finishing this room, I had to dig out some pillow-forms for my great-aunt's needlepoint pillows. I knew that I had some, because I remember buying them when I was in university. That was in the 1990's.

And I did find them, in the bottom bin of a stack of 4 huge bins, behind another stack of bins, in my basement. I was glad to find them, just so I could get out of my Bin Forest, but I was not glad to have stored them forever, through several changes of residence, just because they were a good deal and I thought I might need them if I ever bought cushion covers. Obviously, I did not buy cushion covers.

As I was digging through the bins I passed some "Santa Fe"-style bedding that my hubby bought in the 1980's (I'm sure) and other goodies that will be making their way to the thrift shop.

Just in case that wasn't enough motivation for me, here are some pictures of our basement...

The Bin Forest (a.k.a. laundry area)

Baby gear, anyone?

This is where God laughs and says, "So you think you're going to be a mommy again?!?"

On that note, perhaps I'd have more luck if I'd converted the guest room into a nursery, and tossed all this baby gear in there... Damn. That's it -- after all the guests are gone, rampant baby-making sex in the guest room!

Stuff takes time

The other day I spent a while just filtering and incorporating Easter gifts.

This is not a complaint, actually. I was grateful for the gifts that we received.

Best of all, my sister-in-law gave me a bouquet of tulips. Which I love. Which remind me of my mother. Thank you for these! Yes, they took a little bit of my time -- far less than the time she spent picking them up, I'm sure. I retrieved a vase from the basement; I chopped off the bottoms and arranged them and threw out the debris; I picked up the petals that fell off each day; and when they died I threw them out and hand-washed the vase; which I will take back to the basement. I don't have to store the flowers forever; I wish they'd lasted longer! In the process, I noticed that I have several other vases that I never use and was motivated to ditch those ones.

My parents-in-law listened to us and gave our son things he will use -- Play Doh and sidewalk chalk. Thank you. Two packages of each, though... unless he decides to colour our entire patio, he'll be using this up for years to come. They're grandparents; they're enthusiastic; how will they know it's too much if I don't tell them? 

My sisters-in-law gave him games. Games are good.

I even succumbed to the family's Easter gift tradition and bought J some paints and two paint-brushes (his first).

So I had to find places for all of this stuff. Note to self: allow room for expansion when setting up a storage system. Sure, in theory, toss an old toy to make way for a new toy. But in reality, the day we receive something is not necessarily the day we have time to purge. And a bag full of gifts with nowhere to go is annoying.

As I said, this is not a complaint -- J received thoughtful, useful gifts; I really enjoyed the tulips.

This is a recognition that stuff takes time; less stuff takes less time. Having a place to put it saves some of that time.