Friday, March 31, 2006

Those of you who read my main blog Lizards in the Leaves know that my son Patrick died on March 18, the day I wrote my last entry here. I have not been able to bear coming to this blog and reading my last entries because they were so full of him, of his moving the last of his things out, of his getting his car, of the huge change that made in my life, of how we were going to use his old room....

I am living moment by moment and each one can be radically different. I do intend to resume my journey here because....because I have to do that. In fact, it seems more imperative than ever. But it surely will be a bit different journey.

We now have all of our son's possessions to care for. In the grand scheme of things, he didn't have a lot. We decided the only way we could get through doing this is to consider the care of his earthly things to be sacred acts.

When I started this blog, I felt this it would be documenting and helping me on a journey that had spiritual dimensions, but I didn't realize how spiritual those dimensions could be. One of the driving forces behind my desire to simplify and de-clutter my life was indeed the fear of leaving a big sad bunch of Stuff for my children to deal with when I die. And that is certainly something to consider when we buy and acquire and accumulate.

My son left behind, for the most part, things which had significant meaning for him. As bone-deep sad as it is to handle these things and think about giving them away, because these objects were meaningful to him, it becomes a significant way to grieve --to let them, and him, go with one more act of our love for him.
Love. It's everything.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

the 3-day time-out

Just a quick check-in - I like to update my blogs at least every 2-3 days and it's been almost a week since I wrote here. Major family stuff occurred this week - reunion with siblings, niece and nephews; my son getting back behind the wheel(in his own new used car) for the first time since his terrible November '04 accident; my daughter flying off to a long campus visit to the college to which she might transfer. There was much talking into the wee hours, great cookies, a couple of good meals and the added fillup of a bit of car trouble.

All that happened in three days and suddenly it was Thursday and everyone was gone and I didn't have to drive anyone anywhere. And I felt a bone-deep exhaustion. So I've slept and slept and knitted and spun a bit and done a bit of looking around rather bewildered at what is suddenly a very different world for me now that I don't have to drive my son everywhere - one with more time and more space; and the freedom to decide for myself how to spend the time and move in the space.

I am applying my 3-day time-out rule here.
A long time ago, I arbitrarily decided that 3 days was the allowable maximum for pining over a broken relationship, lost job, disappointment or for freaking out of any kind. 3 days for wallowing in self-pity or recovering from a not-so-restful vacation, sudden change in circumstances, etc. 3 days to stay in bed with covers over the head, hair getting lank, eating only yogurt and/or chocolate. And after that, time to get moving, take a long shower, wash that hair and get on with life.

So today is day 3 of my bewilderment/exhaustion wallow. Time to make some decisions, set more goals, get moving. I have hats to make and clutter to de- and weight to lose.

Bookshelves are coming on Monday and I will be able to fix up Patrick's old room as a really functional space. But first, on Sunday, I will finish working on the remainder of Mom's things which the retirement community allowed me to move into a smaller,vacant apartment. They are going to let us continue to use a little wire storage unit that went with her independent living apartment so I am just going to move those boxes of papers into it for now and not try to make sense of them and organize them yet. Mom has not asked about them, so that seems an okay thing to do for now.

I want to say that I am still reaping the benefits of what I've accomplished so far in my decluttering. In the past, a 3-day swoon would have been made unpleasant by being surrounded by clutter, accompanied by rampant guilt at the mess's existence and disgust at my inertia. But these days have been, on the whole, restful and recharging -- which, after all, is really the purpose of the 3-day time-out in the first place, n'est-ce pas?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

paper clutter, new space

Before I get to my intended topic, I'd like to tell you something about my Secret Pal. This is the 7th SP project, where knitters with blogs get matched with others and spend almost 3 months spoiling each other. I recently discovered the identity of my SP - and also discovered that this blog has inspired her to start decluttering and blog about it! Peacock's blog has the clever title of Beyond the Frame - because she was careful to make sure the pictures she used on her fiber arts blog didn't show the clutter in the background! She is truly a sister in the struggle...

In next few weeks I'm going to concentrate on paper clutter. Gotta get the taxes done and this year I can't do the extension thing which I usually do since my daughter needs our tax information for financial aid applications.

So I might as well use this time to also do some heavy-duty decluttering in the realm of all the saved paper craziness, and some organizing that hopefully will make my paperwork life easier. I am working on a better system for bill-paying and recordkeeping for the family, which for the last few years has also included my mother. For monthly bill-paying, I'm trying out a variation of the system I found described here.

Meanwhile my son, who moved out last summer, has finally gotten almost all his stuff out of his old room, and my daughter is planning to move out soon to have a few months sharing an apartment with a roommate before transferring to a university in another city. Boo-hoo. Yahoo! Free, empty space; more room.... a wonderful and yet dangerous turn of events. If a clutterbug is not cautious, empty nest-freed rooms can become big junk drawers.

This brings me to the sliding block puzzle analogy.

You know those sliding puzzles where you try to make a picture or particular numerical pattern or shape out of a mixed up set of squares? These squares are fitted together in a larger square frame and you may move only one at a time. There is always an empty spot, so that you can move a square to move another square to move another...and so on.

There's some online, like this one: Get My Goat, a puzzle from 1914, in which you try to move a goat inside a fence - you should be able to solve it in 28 moves. (If you like these kinds of puzzles, I found it in the Classic Puzzle section on the Sliding Block Puzzle Page.)

If you're still reading and haven't gotten hung up on those puzzles, here's the analogy:
completed puzzle = my decluttered, organized household
empty square = Patrick's old room

Without that free space to use as things need to be shifted around to create some order, the task of decluttering is a zillion times more difficult. In fact, for me, it was nearly impossible. I have so much Stuff, there's no place that's clutterfree enough to use as the holding space while I get to Stuff that I can get rid of so I move back the Keeper Stuff....and so on. (This analogy is sister to The Old Woman and the Pig analogy.)

This lack of a free space has been a huge obstacle for me, producing that cycle of overwhelmedness/inertia. For awhile, I tried figure out how I could utilize my storage unit that I use for my book business, but I was reluctant to put it to a personal use since it's a business expense.

I also saw big red flags in using a storage unit, both from the standpoint of it being inconvenient and from the possibility of suffering the Out-of-Sight-Out-of-Mind Syndrome. (And I've seen those Hoarder Horror Tales, those who really have it bad fill up their homes then rent storage units and fill them....shudder...)

So, here's what I plan to work on: Patrick's Old Room (which we eventually see as a computer/library/guest room). Since he originally moved out, I've started to use the room to store some yarn and bins of my finished fiber work, as well as a place to keep the printer my daughter and I use for our laptops. My husband would really, really like to have some bookshelves in there - his own (incredibly neat) home office bookshelves are overcrowded and he'd like to have a place to display all the running trophies he's been winning - one of which he just acquired on Saturday---way to go, dear!!!

Friday Patrick and a friend came in and took out the last of his furniture.
For now my goal is to make the room functional, both for our intended use of it and as my free space in the grand decluttering puzzle I'm working.

Here are pictures of the room as Patrick left it on Friday, all my stuff piled helter-skelter:

I did begin work on this yesterday and am about halfway through. Took me awhile, as the dust was so bad it aggravated my asthma. I need to remember to wear a mask when I get into places that haven't been cleaned in awhile!

I'm very excited about having this space and using it wisely!


Friday, March 10, 2006

little feats and little stripes

Life has been very, very difficult this week with my mother's situation. I have encountered my boundary, I think - the place where my tolerance for stress ends and hives begin. I should have remembered this from last October when a similar thing happened, but I didn't and had to get the message again: my poor mother is in a place where nothing I do or give will be enough and so I have to set the limit for doing and giving where I need it to be for my own health and well-being.

I feel almost desperate that these changes I'm trying to make in my life do not get sabotaged by events and responsibilities. I probably spent two days this week in a kind of de-stressing crocheting mania, and have created some marvelous hats, but the bills weren't getting done and there was no decluttering and guilt began its dreadful nibbling at my spirit. And so I resolved again that every day I must do something, anything, even the tiniest step onward (little feats) towards my goals.

I do count as "onward steps" my taking the time to maintain order I've already established, and I have continued to do that. This is really a remarkable shift - I used to run out the door on errands or appointments leaving behind the clutter and mess of whatever I was working on up to the last minute before I had to leave. It is starting to become more of a habit for me to make myself stop working so I have time to tidy up. And it really only takes few minutes.

Here's one of the little feets I accomplished:
This was the result of doing laundry and also gathering together two huge batches of single socks I had been accumulating in the hopes of finding their mates.

Alas, this following is an After picture, all the socks still left partnerless:
At least they can all fit in one drawer now and I shall continue to try to match them for awhile. At some point, they are going to go or become something crafty.

Speaking of going, I am still working on letting go of clothes.
There are some items of clothing that I keep for purely sentimental reasons. They even have names, like Seinfeld and his Golden Boy t-shirt.

There's the shirt I call The Binky Shirt - a worn blue cotton from India that I haven't worn in maybe 15 years, but which I can't bear to throw out because I wore it constantly when I was pregnant with my daughter and for many, many nursing months (years) after. I'm wearing it in numerous pictures of me c.1988-91. It's called the Binky Shirt because I used to keep toddler Patrick's pacifier in the pocket and he'd pat the pocket when he wanted his Binky....awwwwwww, the memories, the memories. I haven't run across it yet in my goings through the clothes, but it will come up and decisions will have to be made.

Meanwhile, Little Stripes is in the to-go pile. Little Stripes was ordered from one of those catalogues where all the colors have names like mud and cloud and echinacea, and all the people look pensive, petulant or bored rich. For some reason, this sort of catalogue appealed to earth mother post-4th-pregnancy chubby moi. And I ordered this shirt and a long brown skirt in a heavy cotton knit, neither of which was very wearable in the climate of South Florida.
Luckily I moved north shortly after and got good use out of both.

It's 15 years since I bought those and the skirt is still a keeper. But Little Stripes has been hanging around for years since I stopped wearing her/him (unisex size) regularly, worn at all extremities:
so loved, though, I just haven't been able to let her/him go. And it was only after I took a picture and promised to write about her/him that she/he would let me say good-bye.

Good-bye Little Stripes!

Compared to the rather dramatic decluttering projects I accomplished when I started this blog, I know the matching-up of socks and the discarding of one shirt must seem awfully insignificant. But they're not - the sock matching reminded me that the regular doing of even the smallest decluttering task can make me feel good, on track and closer to my goal.

And letting go of Little Stripes was a big lesson for me. I think I learned a way to deal with the sentimental impulse that is one of every packrat's major issues:

Do something to honor and keep the memories and emotions evoked by the object: take a picture, do a bit of writing about the object and the memories it carries. Digitize it, turn it into bytes, move my clutter to cyberspace!

It may slow things down a bit if I wind up trying to honor everything I keep for purely sentimental reasons, but I think this idea is going to be very useful to me on this journey.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

back to the journey

After finishing the main part of my mother's apartment, I decided to take a few days as "off" as I can, thinking I'd catch up on paperwork, do some reading in the Paul book, rekindle the fire of my first days in decluttering. Alas, none of that really happened. I did try to relax a bit, though my procrastination about doing the bills and paperwork was always there in the background, making me feel a bit guilty. Very familiar pattern. I decided to just observe it, and try to learn more about it, since I wasn't able to overcome the procrastination enough to actually do the bills and paperwork! I'm not sure what I learned except that I hate it when that happens.....

Today, I felt all the to-do's I'd thought I'd do as overwhelming. So I decided not to think about it and make a hat. I've made a lot of hats this week. And I'm very excited about these hats as they are very close to the visions I have of the sort of work I most like to create. You might think this belongs more on my fiber arts blog, and that's where I'll post the pictures in a day or two, but I wanted to write about this here as I really think that the decluttering I've accomplished so far is a major reason why I'm experiencing this creative leap towards my artistic vision. Even the the little bit I've done has been tremendously freeing for me in so many ways.

And that is, of course, my purpose in embarking on this journey.

But there's more....I made a hat, yes, but I pushed myself a little to get back to the journey and accomplished this today:

Remember this kitchen shelf?

Now it looks like this.
Not particularly pretty,
but it's functional and organized,
dried fruit and nuts far less
than 5 years old
and shelves for art
supplies near where I
work and need them!
And best of all, some
empty space - the bane of
decluttering when you're in
as big a mess as I am is that
there is no place to put
anything when you do get around
to trying to put things in
appropriate places.

And remember my shipping table?

Well now it looks like this:

Of course, I don't have any book orders right now, but
I'm ready for 'em!

And now, I'd like to show you why I don't have anything to ship -- the total disaster area that is my main work area and the reason why I haven't catalogued, uploaded, created auctions, etc. since the bookshop closed last September. I'm not saying I'm ready to tackle this next, but I know I've got to deal with this very soon.

I don't think this picture really captures the extent of the disorder! It is the one area that really does look a bit like those poor packrat/hoarders homes. You can hardly get to the computer there, there's stuff on the computer chair, and look, my scale is just sitting on top of the scanner...I had to move a bunch of stuff because we had a leaky pipe and I've never put anything back. That was at least 4 weeks ago....

Finally, to end this long entry, I want to publicly thank my canister vacuum. I love canister vacuums. I hate uprights. There is nothing like a canister vacuum for ease of dealing with attachments, getting into the small spots and corners. And they follow you around like a loyal dog, or R2D2, and best of all, help suck you out of a mess and really help to make that decluttered area look so much better!

Thank you, Mighty Mite!!!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

why is this bookseller.....

......packing a book for shipping on her dining table? Why, when she had to shlep all the packing materials from the basement; why, when it hurts her back to work standing at such a low surface????

The answer to those burning question below.

Meanwhile I feel pretty good about the situation with my mother's apartment switch. I really did get everything done that needed to be done by yesterday. Today the retirement community folks are going to move all the papers I still need to go through, plus furniture going to charity. They will move it into a vacant apartment where I can spend a little more time dealing with the papers. They have also decided to allow my mother to keep the little cage storage unit that goes with that apartment, and once I get some organization to her papers, I can store them there. That way, I can bring small amounts of them to her to go through or work on, and we won't be overwhelmed and she won't be able to mix them up again.

I guess I didn't say that one of the most important things is that my mother had been working on getting her poems together to publish a collection. She had been working with a personal assistant over the last year and before she became so ill, they had poems in good order, discovering that there should be three books, and pretty much had the manuscript ready for the first. But last September my mother's life came crashing down with a very stunning onset of dementia/depression/hallucinations. Her papers got shuffled about, mixed up...a tornado inside and out.

So The Papers are very important and I need to take care and time with them, and it looks like the situation will now allow that. And in such a way that it needn't take over my life and cause great stress.

Needless to say, I haven't been spending much time on my own clutter. But it is time to get back to my journey. My next assignment is in the answer to the question above: 'Why is this bookseller packing a book for shipping on her dining table?'

Because her shipping table looks like this:

eeek! Next time I'll write a bit about how my little bookselling business has nearly vanished over the last few months and how much I want and need to have it back as part of this journey.

wishing all a jolly, stress-free day,