Just Learn the Important Words

  
Rain has been my constant companion so far in the tiny powerhouse that is Switzerland. This morning I had planned to rise early, get myself together, stop for some coffee and get to the train station for my full day in Luzern or Lucerne, as it is translated. Why does it have to be translated? Anyway, I did all that, just much later.

Let me begin by saying I slept an unprecedented 10 hours – interrupted marginally, but miraculous nonetheless. My queen sized bed is just this side of sleeping on the floor and the pillows are foam, leaden with age. No problem. The secret cocktail? Exhaustion + dry red medicine + open window with rain pounding the ground and cool air caressing my forehead. Even after ten hours it was difficult to get going. But I did. It probably helped that there was no coffee here. Motivation. 

I began making friends at the train station. “Excuse me but how do I get a ticket to the flughafen?” It took a little finesse but the 30 something man with round glasses and a waxed bag holding a pastry just procured at the well-placed gluten kiosk behind me, got me straightened out just in time for his train. Confident that I knew where I was going I found the secret passageway to the other track, just to be informed by a nice Swiss lady who works for the transit system that I should indeed go back where I came from. Meaning the other track of course. 

Finally in my seat, I still had the airport train station to master. Here a billette operator escorted me to a kiosk where he encouraged me, like a young child learning times tables, through selecting and purchasing my own ticket to the beautiful little lake town of Luzern. 

 New friends are everywhere. 

On the train I chose to perch myself on the upper level for a better view. About the third of five stops in a woman in her sixties or older hawked up a few words of something that sounded German and ended with a question mark. I nodded and smiled politely not entirely certain what I was agreeing to but it seemed the seat across from me was her request. We stared out the window in polite silence until I asked her if she spoke English. We’re now best friends. Not really but we did have a lovely conversation. 

Her parents lived in Arizona for a while but she was born in Luzern and lives there now. It’s beautiful, she says, except now the Chinese are moving in and people from India. Wait, what? They come in big groups apparently and if they like it they let everyone they know, know. 

Redirect.

“I just love the water and all the photos I’ve seen are beautiful.” She took the cue and pointed out a small town just before Luzern that has a lovely long lake that people walk around, and in the summer there are ‘rowing races’. 

“Do you like your American president?” This is the starter gun shot to a little game I like to call “defending your passport” that I don’t much like playing. In all honesty I’d much rather hear her thoughts so I play it semi-safe by saying, “the US is pretty divided right now.” That’s enough of an opening for her to walk through with both barrels loaded. And it doesn’t stop with him, apparently the leader of Switzerland is no good either, and there are others. She mercifully wraps it up with, “the good people just don’t run for office.” A universal truth perhaps.

It’s our stop. She tells me she will show me where to start my self-guided walking tour. She takes me to the large arches that welcome travelers to both the train station and the city, and points diagonally left. Thank you, says I, have a nice time, says she and we part.

Once alone, I am pulled by architecture, water, green hills rising from the lake and disappearing into the clouds. Swans swim nearby and people are plentiful but it’s not yet crowded. Rain is helpful that way. I wander aimlessly. Truly. I pass stores and restaurants, somehow end up in a mostly modern office building hive. I meander past a huge church where I am stopped by a British Indian family seeking directions. My mutt ancestry allows me to take on the persona of any cold weather European. I am surprisingly able to help them find their way to the train station. Onward I go. I notice the other side of the river (that is actually the lake) has intriguing buildings high in the hills dotted with what appear chimneys but are really low hanging clouds, and I wonder how I might get there. Try as I might I can’t seem to crack the code. I walk up what feels like hundreds of time worn, uneven stone steps, follow narrow alleyways and well-trod paths only to end up walking down a hill back to the water. Whatever mysteries are hidden in the turreted buildings on the hill will have to remain that way for now. 

I’m hungry. I mean really hungry and I have to pee. Time to find some lunch. There are many restaurants along the banks of the lake and their prices reflect their location. And some of the offerings frighten me. I may be able to muster courage for many things, but foodie I am not. I find the perfect restaurant in a hotel but they are closed until six. It’s three. I will not succumb to American fast food. Instead I pay way too much to eat Italian food on the Swiss riviera. I did sample some dry red Swiss wine though, so I’m not a total food loser. 

I’m done. It’s time to meander back to Zurich. The rain has picked up and I’m wet. 

I find my train. This is getting easier. I don’t have to know all the words, just the important ones. This train does not go all the way back to the airport, it goes to Zurich’s version of grand central. That was a fun segue. Art, fancy shops, grocery stores, thousands of fresh off work for the weekend folks and lots of soldiers in fatigues. It took everything I could  NOT to ask them if they were carrying knives. Get it? Swiss. Army. Knives. 

Anyway.

The rest of the rail hopping is a confusing blur of misreads, double-checks and finally landing at the right station. Which, it turns out is a lot closer if I don’t swing by Starbucks first. 

Oh, did I mention self check-out at the grocery store? In the big scary train station? In Switzerland? For some reason I thought, well I didn’t think, I just operated on a time crunch and instinct. I mean a barcode is a barcode in any language right? You’d think. There was an English language option so I chose it to pay for my coconut water and chocolate (balance, don’t judge). Everything was going just fine until it got to the end. I inserted my credit card, agreed to the amount and the conversion and probably sneaky conversion fees. Then I was met with a split screen. On the left side of the screen some important question or action appeared in Swiss in red with another button resembling “no” in red beneath it. On the right, a giant green exclamation point with a button that I assumed said “yes” beneath it. No matter how many times I hammered the EN button, the Swiss or German refused to budge. I switched to French. I could decipher the word receipt on the left which gave me confidence to press oui on the right. A receipt was spat out and I was on my way.

Wonder where I will be led tomorrow? Feeling a boat trip and an embarrassing run through the Lindt chocolate factory outlet store maybe in order. 

I repeat: Lindt. Chocolate. Factory. Outlet.

Lone Wanderer

  
Today after a 12 hour journey or so I landed in the gray and rainy Swiss metropolis of Zurich.  During those long hours on a couple of flights I somehow relaxed enough for all the stress I had been so valiantly suppressing to  gush forward in the form of a perpetually running faucet of a nose. No matter.
Upon arriving at the airport I was to find my way to the Stadelhofen train station. Ok, was my response, I’ll figure it out. And I did. I have come to learn that the bonus side of my sometimes troublesome curiosity is awareness.

I. Notice. Everything. 

I dutifully followed signs to train/bahn, then found the info lady and finally the ticket man. I guessed at the right track 4, asked a woman who only spoke Portuguese a question she did not understand, therefor couldn’t answer about the train currently idling on the track and took my chances hopping through the open door, while swiping at my nose. I confirmed with a suspected heroin addict that this particular train went in the direction I intended and took a seat. 

Four stops later I was spat out into the wet, cool air. My Airbnb host was there awaiting me and even took my bag. A carry-on only if I may boast. For two weeks. We walked a few blocks, took an elevator better suited for one small child with a chihuahua to the fourth floor and entered the apartment.

Spacious, comfortable, on a park and a fraction of even the least expensive hostel. Switzerland is pricey. He showed me around then left. 

I arranged a few things, poked around the kitchen then fell into bed with the windows open and the rain pounding away outside. An hour later I was refreshed enough to cross the street to the grocery store. I wanted to explore more but the rain and this annoying sieve of a nose caused me to pump the brakes. For an hour or so. 

As I was getting ready to leave again, I heard the familiar sound of pedals striking strings. Piano music was seeping through the walls giving me that delicious feeling of being part of something. Life was happening here. Cities have always been my comfort zone, I like the idea of knowing there are stories happening all around me simultaneously and maybe even intertwined. We are all connected after all.

As I made my way down the wide concrete stairs that belonged more to a 1930’s office building than a 5 story apartment building, I noticed other bits of stories. The occupant directly below me had two umbrellas leaning again the wall next to their door, a little further down one occupant had placed a big lace heart on their door and finally at the bottom, a chiropractic office.

Outside more than a dozen bikes sat in a row unlocked and unconcerned. The park was glistening bright green and a mother stood by while her child rode a hobby horse even in the rain.

I wandered to Starbucks. I know, but it’s a little bit of grounding that feels like a permission slip to explore freely. After that I took any side street that interested me with the intention of making my way to the water. I watched the good citizens of Zurich for traffic and street crossing clues, wished I had an umbrella and took note of stores and restaurants to explore later. 

The waterfront was beautiful and mystical shrouded in low hanging clouds. Solitary joggers and residents on bikes passed me by on the walkway arcaded with these magical trees. Occasionally a pair of friends would stroll by peeking outfrom under  their umbrellas to be sure the other understood the point they were trying to make.

There was a bridge in the near distance that was pulling me but I had to resist. I had to get into dry clothes and blow my nose. I had to check my powers of observation and recall to see if I could find my way back without soaking my phone to check Google maps. I did. No problem. Even managed to duck into a different grocery store for a medicinal bottle of wine.

Day 1 in the books. Tomorrow promises the same weather but I think I may find my way to Lake Lucerne. Back to the train platform to the train station to navigate farther south then hoof it around the sweet lake town. But we’ll see.

Accountability

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There is a little life-mastery, business boosting, book my brother loves: Living Forward. He has talked about it, done the process and talked about that and encouraged me to do the same as well as download the podcasts of its authors. I have done none of that.

After finishing the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (I seem to always need to be reading some sort of non-fiction, motivational type book) I cast about my home of many bookcases for the next inspiring tome. I have been reading The Body Keeps the Score in small disconnected doses, but that one has a heaviness to it that is more informative than inspiring so something a little lighter, a little shorter that will make me do something would be perfect.

Enter Living Forward. I read it aloud to my husband. He had been going through a bout of “wooziness” characterized by vertigo and mild nausea, so reading was out for him for now. This also made him my captive.

Let’s take the high road and say the book bears an eerie likeness to What Matters Most, the leadership program by Franklin Covey. An homage let’s say. But, the information was very useful and it was time for me to revisit it, so I took to it earnestly.

I will not spoil it for you here, but I will share that the process begins with writing your own eulogy – a possibly creepy, but very telling activity. How do you want to be remembered? It makes me think of the quote that’s often attributed to Buddha,

“Who you are now is a result of what you have done, who you will become will be the result of what you do now.”

Or something like that. This exercise, if thoughtfully done, can help guide your future, transform your present, or at the very least shine a light on all the awesomeness you already are.

From there, life accounts are created and within each one of those are purpose statements, reality and commitments. It’s all very motivating. They key to the whole enchilada is returning to it daily.

Reading. It. Every. Day.

This too is helpful, if sometimes a bit of a slog. It puts all your thoughts and promises to yourself in front of your face on the regular. You can catch bad behavior, change harmful habits and feel a moment of guilt that can help turn the ship around and move in the healthy direction you had intended.

Mostly it works. There are still some bugs in my programming, but with the daily read I am getting over myself quite efficiently. I’ll be making good on those gym and meditation promises any day now.

Diet Roulette

Ayurveda

I’m doing it again. The food thing. Changing it up. If you’ve lost track, as I have, let me recount the past few food philosophies I have adopted and what I’ve learned and why I’m switching again.

There was the juice cleanse. The intention was to drink nothing but freshly pressed green juices, mostly my own, for 3-5 days. Eat a little whole fruit in there, perhaps some all-vegetable salads with only cold pressed olive oil drizzled. It went pretty well, but really 3 days of that is not enough to reveal any great insights, and I got so bored. So, I moved on.

I was feeling an unreasonable amount of stuffiness and congestion so I investigated the low-histamine trend. It’s the newest shiny thing in the food world. It’s difficult, but I did it religiously for about three weeks then slowly incorporated higher histamine foods back in. I mean, no avocado? Come on! Plus, I was reading conflicting articles, apparently it’s a very personal thing, this histamine. I did however find relief from the congestion and I stopped my morning ritual of three sneezes upon rising, so a win, I would say. But not sustainable and not intended to be.

That brings us to Whole30. That blog was a few days ago. The Cliff Notes version: It was good and pretty easy for me.

But still, there was this nagging in my mind or gut or somewhere demanding attention that told me I had not quite figured it out.

Circumstances being what they were I was heading to Flagler Beach to take my love to an Ayurvedic Physician. There was a consultation, then the recommendation that he return for four days to do a cleanse for four hours each day. This involved a specific kind of lymphatic massage, a sweat box, a forehead oil drip and something I promised not to mention. Let’s just say, it was a big part of the ‘cleanse’. Back and forth each day. That’s about an hour and a half each way. But it’s the beach, so. Plus, I personally know and love the doctor here. He spent his first lifetime as a general surgeon, then shifted a little more than 10 years ago to Ayurveda.

A quick primer: Ayurveda literally translates to Science of Life, it is the sister science to yoga. Where yoga is mostly a spiritual path, Ayurveda deals with the physical health of the body as it relates to diet, the seasons and the rhythms of the earth. Together they are a comprehensive approach to health. Everything prescribed in Ayurveda is dependent upon your dosha – your body’s constitution. This can be determined by a quick pulse diagnosis by someone who knows what they’re looking for. Often our constitutions are out of balance and some tweaking with food, exercise, lifestyle choices, treatments like massage, activities like yoga and herbs, will help straighten everything out. Other times call for a detox to remove stubborn waste called ama.

As I mentioned in the Whole 30 blog, body intuition goes a long way to recognizing an imbalance, but it is often useful to get another opinion. I also mentioned how it would be so great to be a vegetarian. (That right there is a little thing we call foreshadowing.)

Well, while I was waiting in this spectacular giant home on the water with a pool at my disposal, I decided to schedule a consultation for myself. Turns out, according to Ayurveda, a vegan diet is what is best for me right now. Vegan. No eggs, no dairy, no meat. Kind of the opposite of Whole 30, but I’m game. My first question was, “Forever?”

One year, with check-ins every three months. I’m down. And kind of excited. From past experimental experiences, I can tell you that a vegetarian diet for a month or more always left me feeling clearer and lighter, but I was invariably pulled back to the other side by my habits. The every-three-month thing will probably hold me accountable. Plus, I can have dark chocolate, coffee and wine on occasion. Win.

There is still “no list” food in my home and I am awaiting some herbs, so I plan to use the next couple days to transition and start with full attention on Sunday. In the margins of my life I am also completing a Life Plan as directed by the motivational book Living Forward, which happens to have as one of its “life accounts” Health. This will be completed on Saturday so the stars seem to be aligning.

I’m such an over-achiever wannabe.

Food Intuition

curious me

Why is food such a challenge? I’m not sure when marketers started getting involved but I suspect that’s when we all became confused. We believed what we heard because [mostly] men in white coats were telling us what to do. Celebrities who looked amazing drank diet soda and ate lettuce for dessert, so we did that. No fat, all fat, no carbs, only carbs, no meat, lots of meat. It’s much more conflicted now. Information is moving quickly and the desperate need to get it in front of the right people has created a whole new business culture involving metrics and algorithms. Plus, those with the most money win. The meat and dairy industries throw an enormous amount of capital at advertising – and often misdirecting and making false claims – while the little organic kale farmer can barely pay crop insurance, let alone extol the virtues of cruciferous vegetables.

But then again, maybe it’s all genetics.

But beyond blaming the big guys (or maybe because of them, but let’s take responsibility back now, people) we have lost touch with our body intuition. I know I have. Mostly. As a teenager, Weight Watchers and Seventeen magazine directed my dietary needs. Then came Dr. Atkins and Scarsdale. Then joining a sorority at a southern university and eating the cooking of an amazingly talented southern black woman who cooked with passion, love and lard. Then all the alcohol that comes with college. Then vegetarianism, veganism, paleo, Mediterranean… I’m getting exhausted just typing this.

I needed someone else to tell me what was good for me. I lost trust in my gut.

So, it will probably come as no surprise that I just completed the Whole 30 plan (I just can’t use the word diet anymore). It was good. It is how I normally eat when I am behaving and when I am capable of listening to my body. It follows my particular blood type. (Yes, I did that one too, maybe the only one that really made sense and felt good. So why did I give it up?)

In the end I lost maybe 6 pounds. A small win, but a win nonetheless. I attribute that entirely to no sugar and no alcohol. Mostly no sugar, I had all but given up my red wine habit months ago, opting only for special occasions. Like a normal person.

I didn’t move enough. I have a million valid reasons but really that’s just a pretty way of saying excuses. If I had moved more that weight loss number would likely be higher. But moving is coming.

I have learned throughout this year so many valuable things about my tendencies and my experience of life in general. One of those is: Life will always get in the way. In other words I will always have a valid reason NOT to do something. No sleep, disrupted schedule, travel, sick pet or person, but so what, that is life.

Life cannot interrupt life.

It takes commitment and self-prioritization. And I know that once I get just a few days into a healthy routine of the gym or yoga or walking, my body will beg me to keep going.

Back to intuition. I like the premise of the Whole 30 diet as I do almost any elimination plan. If it’s taken seriously and done correctly it can offer a lot of information about your body’s capabilities to digest and assimilate certain types of foods. It creates and environment of forced intuition that can help rebuild that innate muscle.

It’s as simple as this: Pay Attention.

How do you feel when you eat certain foods? Energized, sluggish, asthmatic, itchy, bloated, nauseous, calm, jittery? These are solid clues.

I know my body is not fond of grains – in particular wheat. It does not take kindly to legumes and it gets very congested on dairy. It LOVES sugar, or maybe that’s all in my head. To be honest, even juice can make my heart race, so sugar isn’t so much my friend as my energy dealer.

But I have discovered that I can tolerate a small amount of any of those things once in a while. I can have a fully loaded cappuccino on a rainy afternoon every so often. A piece of birthday cake does not affect me if I’m not eating wheat and dairy on the daily. Black beans in my burrito bowl are quite tasty, but less is better. Cheese is seductive, but being able to breathe and, well, perform other natural functions, now wins. No cheese. I have also learned that there is such a thing as too much meat for me. I would love to be able to be a vegetarian but without legumes or soy it’s very difficult to find a worthy protein source. Instead I limit my animal protein to eggs from a friend’s happy chickens and some responsibly, humanely, organically raised beef and chicken from a local farm. If I had to catch and kill my own dinner I would live off eggs or learn to like fish. Perhaps a plan for the near future.

Oh, wait, Ayurveda…

 

 

Sugar Troll

Stone bridge over a canyon at the Trolls path in Norway

It’s amazing to me how I can go from gobbling sugar in various forms to not having any at all and being okay with it. It’s like a switch is thrown, but until it is I am stumbling down a long, dark hallway with no windows in the middle of a moonless night groping for it, picking up a piece of candy and maybe a glass of wine along the way.

I don’t fully understand the triggers.

In the book, The Whole30, the authors speak of slaying the sugar dragon. I find this an unfair assessment of dragons of which I have great affection. I know of no such dragon, but I am more intimately acquainted than I’d like to be with the Sugar Troll. He’s ugly and creepy and short with rotten teeth and thick black fingernails. His posture is atrocious and he emits a smell I can only compare to too much cotton candy. When he’s close to me I am disgusted. It’s usually after we’ve just polished off a pint of ice cream or a bag of m&m’s. It’s not often. Mostly he lurks around corners and behind draperies encouraging just a little more sugar in my coffee or another piece of dark – the good for you kind – chocolate.

I don’t want to slay him so much as help him find his bridge. I’m not a violent person.

For the past three days he’s been on vacation. I asked him to go, told him he deserved it. He has after all been working really hard the past few months, and if I’m totally honest, more than the past fifity years. I don’t know how he does it. He works so hard for these intense bursts; bringing me bags of Werther’s and butter rum Lifesavers. When we go shopping together at Michael’s he always insists I pick up a pack of Razzles. It’s a candy AND a gum and big piece of my childhood. I deserve the memory, he winks. He loves parties, admonishing me if I try to avoid the birthday cake, it would be rude not to have a piece. And wine, I should have lots of wine, the red kind, it’s good for me. Like dark chocolate.

And then he hibernates for a while and I back off the cavity-maker in self-abasement. Then, just when the tiniest stress begins to build because of… anything …he’s at my door with a box of gluten free ginger snaps from Whole Foods.

He’s a cheeky bastard.

We’re having heart to heart conversations these days. He‘s taking my desire for him to move out pretty personally. He’s trying to understand, but he’s hurt. There is nothing sadder than a crying, snotty sugar troll. Pitiful. I explain that he could find a nice sugar troll mate and they could fall in love and eat candy together forever.

It’s been four days and I haven’t heard from him. I hope he’s kicking back on the rocks by the stream daydreaming and sighing contentedly a lot. I really don’t want to see him again, but it’s not his fault.

We’re just in two different places. And I’d like it to stay that way.

Downtime

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As I was journaling this morning I looked around my clean and straightened living room and felt a sense of emptiness or loss or maybe I was just tired, but a tiny flutter of panic began to beat its wings against my belief in this purging mission I’m on.

When I journal, I know I’m done when I start writing about what my plans are for the day, but today I struggled to articulate them and instead stared at various things I didn’t have to turn my head to look at. Typically my to-do list involves way more than is humanly possible, but this morning I floundered. I was apathetic. Lazy. Bored. Blah.

This feeling of ennui had me troubled.

Then the source of this unrest explained itself to me. Or rather offered up a suggestion as to why it may be lurking. “Is it possible,” it asked, “that you need mess around you to feel creative? To feel energized? Inspired? Motivated?”

I have built much of my purging and organizing on the foundation of less stuff = more clarity for creativity. If I have no motivation to begin or continue a creative project because my house is nice and neat, have I been wasting my time?

Let’s not jump to conclusions.

I am one of those people who feels like I should always be doing something, working on a project, creating something from scratch, procrastinating by being busy with things that will never make a difference, or doing my part to save the world.

You know, a woman.

Downtime is a dirty word, it shows weakness. It’s shameful. Only, of course, it isn’t. It is the yin to the over-productive crazy making yang we usually live in. It’s not a reward. There’s not something or so much that has to be done to earn downtime. It’s simply the other side. It’s the time necessary that allows for the salvation of the planet at 3 AM. It’s the being that fortifies and fuels the doing.

 

I am half way through this year of organization and clarity, it’s not even time for it to arrive yet. I’m going to take my own advice: pump the brakes, rest, maybe read a book, walk in the woods, breathe.

You should too. The world needs a lot of saving. And purging. And creativity.

Half Way

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Today marks the sixth month of this crazy purge thing I got myself into. When I began, I believed – which is my overly optimistic nature – that I could knock it out in a month and drop the mic. But, like all things I think I can accomplish quickly, I was wrong. At six months, I feel a little more than half way, maybe.

To remind myself of the actual plan, I had to go back to the beginning. January 1, 2017.

MY PLAN:

1. Catalog every item in my home.

Ok, I can explain. I inherited a whole 2 bedroom apartment that had been stuffed to the ceiling with books, crafting items and furniture. I let go of the cataloging, but plan to do a final count when I’m done with the stuff shuffle.

2. Purge what is no longer useful or meaningful.

This I have done. I have piled items high at work for people to paw through and take; made no less than 20 trips to Good Will with no fewer than 50 boxes of things; thrown more into the trash than I ever want to do for the rest of forever; nearly 15 pounds of ‘very important papers’ have been shredded; the two-body recycle bin continues to fill; and… I’m still at it.

3.Eat clean 90% of the time.

Can we talk about something else? Actually the Whole 30 is on deck for July.

4. Reduce my carbon footprint any way I can.

I haven’t been able to even think about this yet. I am very mindful when I purchase things not to succumb to plastic. And I did buy a composter, which is still sitting in parts on my patio table. Baby steps. I am hoping that by year’s end with my mind and space clear, I can devote thoughtful time to this one.

5. Create a mammoth spreadsheet of my stuff.

Started. Abandoned. Please see 1.

6. Ask myself, with everything I do or bring into my home, “Is this the best choice for me, the planet, my home?” “Do I need it?”

Not much other than food is coming into my home right now. And I feel like I need it.

7. Reduce my trash and recycles to next to nothing.

Please see 4.

There were many things that happened in the first six months of this year that could have so easily derailed me, but didn’t. Not completely. This tells me how important this project is to me. This commitment to a lighter, freer lifestyle oddly takes Herculean effort at times.

All in all, I am satisfied with my progress thus far. As I wrap up the purge of physical stuff (see, there’s that overly optimistic, or possibly delusional Pollyanna again) I am moving into digital purge and body purge. I thought I could sort of toggle between them all, you know, knock it all out at once, but too much focus is necessary for each area.

I am not putting pressure on the next six months though, rather I am continuing forward with purpose. I’m being the tortoise rather than the over-excitable-wear-myself-out-over-thinking-procrastinating-with-other-important-not-important-things hare.

Slow and steady wins the race.

 

Yard Sale

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During the process of purging and organizing I have been playing game show host with my thoughts and my stuff. Some truth or dare, if you will.

There is a lot of ‘what iffing’ going on as well.

  • What if I only had 10 minutes to gather everything dear to me – assuming all the sentient beings were already taken care of – what would I grab?
  • What if I lost all this stuff? What would I miss? Any of it?
  • What if I gave all of this away to people I knew – as opposed to strangers at a thrift store – would that feel good? Would there be attachment to their appreciation or lack thereof?
  • What if I gave everything away and regretted it?

My internal self queries have gone beyond the pragmatic ‘do I need this?’ line of questioning into the psychological realm of judgment and self-worth.

Somehow there is a sense of self that is attached to everything we own. (I’m gonna go ahead and say we, I think that’s safe.) The degree to which this is debilitating or harmful will be markedly different for everyone, dependent solely on belief systems.

A few of the attachments I’ve stumbled across for myself, and those reflected back to me when I’ve shared my year-long madness with others, include:

Status. “Owning this means I’ve made it to some magical level of achievement.”

Value. “This cost a lot of money. Maybe I’ll sell it, I’m sure it’s gone way up in value.” It has not, unless it’s jewelry or a Van Gogh.

Respect. “This was a gift and what if so-and-so comes over and it’s not displayed? Isn’t that just rude?”

Emotion. “All my feelings for that person are wrapped up in this ___fill in the blank___. If I let it go I am basically disregarding the very existence of this person in my life and therefore their value as a human being.” (Hint: you do not have that kind of power, it’s up to them what sort of value they place on their existence.)

Memories. Similar to emotion but more wistful and much more powerful. “Every time I look at or touch this it makes me feel ____fill in the blank_____. I don’t want to forget this memory, therefore I can never let go of this thing.”

Recently I had a conversation with a friend about that very topic: memory. It went something like this:

Me: Letting go of stuff is getting easier and easier.

Them: Yeah? What about the things that have really great memories attached to them?

Me: Even that stuff isn’t so hard to part with any more. The memories aren’t in the thing.

Them: But what if it’s a memory that makes you feel good and once you get rid of the thing you don’t have that touchstone to look back on that good memory.

Me: Hopefully you’ll have new memories and that memory will have served its purpose. Or it will still surface once in a while on its own.

Them: Yeah… I guess.

Neither one of us was firmly convinced of our own argument, nor did we adopt the other’s line of thinking. It was a kindly philosophical debate that we allowed to hover in the air around us as we moved on to other topics.

Out of these types of conversations and my own game show fantasies, I have developed a sure-fire way to determine the fate of my individual things. Sure-fire is a fancy way of saying it mostly works.

It’s the yard sale technique.

Literally, if you can, place all your items up for consideration and maybe some you were for sure you were going to keep or toss onto table(s) much like you would find at a yard sale. Don’t spend a lot of time arranging them or grouping them, just place them safely. Then take a few minutes to walk around the table and decide if you would purchase them all over again, if they were for sale – even for a buck or two. If the answer is a resounding internal “yes” with fireworks and heart emoticons rising like balloons, then pick that item up and place it in your ‘basket’. If it’s a “nah, don’t know why I’ve been holding onto that for so long anyway,” leave it on the table. If it’s riding the fence and keeps calling you back to be considered, find a holding area in which to place it.

This can also be done in small batches, by the room let’s say. Or in stages; everything out, grab what you love, leave the rest and come back later.

I am a fan of just letting go, but I also understand the delicate threads that link us to our pasts. I feel that should be honored. When the decision is made thoughtfully there can be little room for regret.

Go shopping in your own home. Maybe you’ll find something nice to pick up for someone else!

Junk Drawer

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If you’re following along with out purging process, you may be wondering why I didn’t start you off somewhere simple like a junk drawer or that closet that houses roller blades, winter clothes, wooden tennis racquets and bags full of mystery. The answer is simple: it won’t make a difference.

I’m not going for the temporary win here, I’m going for transformational.

A [more than likely misguided, but ultimately helpful] thief could enter your home while you’re at work, remove every item in that closet and junk drawer and you probably wouldn’t notice for months. When you needed a battery for the smoke alarm, probably or when you finally decide to toss that deflating exercise ball into the hungry maw of broken promises.

No. You may feel a momentary puffery of satisfaction for emptying these spaces, but you didn’t really do anything worthy of praise. Sorry.

We are working on areas that you see every day, that drag down your energy and make you want to leave town or nap until dinner. We are working with present day life stuff.

Make the junk drawer or the closet your reward after your first purge. PLUS, if you empty a drawer and a closet first, what do you think will happen?

Oh, I think you know.

You’ll have the best of intentions.  You will only put a few things in there, like holiday items and golf clubs. That is until you have company and need a quick place to stash all that extra stuff that won’t fit under the bed because you never got around to doing that because you were so busy patting yourself on the back for emptying the junk drawer and closet of things you didn’t even know you had.

So.

Peruse your shoes, paw through your clothes and remove a couple of items. I’ll bet you already know which ones. Then do a little more and keep going. It’s a lot like a new habit, it needs reinforcing. The empty space is your reward.

Then when you do need that 9 volt battery at the Autumnal Equinox guess what will happen? You’ll take 10 minutes to rifle through the drawer, throw anything away that is no longer needed, straighten up what you do need and walk away. Just like that. No ceremony, no struggle. You’ll be so pro at this you won’t even notice what you just did until you’re about to lay down to bed. And even then you’ll smile, just a little and not even share it on social media.

You’re that good.