What’s Your Why?

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I’m always amazed when a friend starts a sentence with, “I read your blog on…” referring to something I wrote that mattered to them.

I share this with you because it makes me very happy, but also because there is a recurrent theme in these conversations: stuff. “I’m right there with you.” “What is it about stuff?” “How are you handling this or letting go of that?” “How do I even start?”

They want to know my process. Exactly.

I’ll share it, but I want to make it clear that The Process is different for everyone. The time it takes, what to start with, how to keep going will depend on you.

In addition, these friends want to know how they will feel. I can’t answer that. I can tell you I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, sad, light, elated and overwhelmed all over again. There are times that I cannot stop and other times I’m paralyzed in the middle of a room and all I want to do is sit down and cry.

It should be different for everyone. Why you are doing it what matters most.

If you have a concrete goal in mind that is driving you, or an intention for the use of the space when you are done, you will remain steadfast in your endeavor. You must KNOW clarity will come. You must TRUST breathing will be easier and petty life stuff will no longer pull you down.

Stuff is a stressor. Just add it to the list. It’s one more thing (or likely hundreds of little actual things) on your nervous system.

You must have a clear vision. And support.

It is difficult, but not impossible, to do this alone in a house full of people who roll their eyes and sigh at your crazy ideas more than should be natural.

IT IS NOT YOUR JOB TO SWAY THEM OR DO THIS FOR THEM.

For now, focus on YOU.

I encourage you to work on your why. As Stephen Covey stated, “Begin with the end in mind.”

  • What does the “end” look like for you?
  • What does it feel like?
  • What will the benefit be once your space is purged and organized?
  • What is the why that will keep you going?

Work on a ‘why’ that is so strong that you can easily explain it and rely on it to keep you on track.

If you’re struggling with the final vision, try getting at it this way:

  • What is frustrating you now?
  • How much time do you spend moving things to look for other things?
  • How much time do you spend looking for something in general?
  • How much energy do you lose when you look at your surroundings?

Imagine your space clear, open, organized. Close your eyes and edit it. Imagine your bedroom with just a bed. What else do you need? What else would you add? Maybe it’s nothing. Start with an empty room in your mind’s eye and add in (on paper or in your imagination) only what you need and what brings you peace.

The outcome you envision will be the key to your progress. If nothing is coming to you, maybe it’s not the right time quite yet. Allow it to unfold, to evolve, let it roll around in your brain.

It. Is. So. Worth. It.

YOU, are so worth it.

Next time we’ll talk strategy. For now work on “why”. What’s the point? Ponder that.

The Dump

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Larry and I were recently at our county’s Central Transfer Station – that’s a fancy name for dump. Larry had been before, but I had never had the pleasure. When we drove in, we stopped at the guardgate and were happily directed to the “tunnel, all the way to the right.”

It wasn’t as obvious as it sounded.

We accidentally drove down the wrong tunnel. There are three tunnels, the one on the far right was our intended destination to drop off old paint cans, chemicals and a few electronics as we continue to purge, but somehow we drove down the center lane. It was creepy. There was a giant dump truck open on the top, and it was receiving trash from a trap door, the size of a car, above it. It felt like we were on secret property, like we might get caught and questioned in this smelly, putrefying place lit sickly green by fluorescent bulbs. But no one paid any attention to us. We drove out as if we were getting away with something, quickly but calmly.

Once outside, there were people moving things from here to there, county vehicles and random pavilions and no one paid any attention to us. A left turn would take us back to our starting point so we could try this again.

IMG_7586On our second try we found the correct tunnel. It was fastidious – for a dump. There were giant signs for each type of contaminant and pallets beneath them neatly stacked with items homeowners, just like us, had placed in rows. To the right there were what looked like huge walk-in freezers each with its own warning: Flammable, Poison, Corrosive, Oxidizer. When there was no obvious place for electronics, I hailed an official looking person and he pointed further down the line. There, a large old TV was placed nearly in the way with nothing but static and the letters TVs painted on the screen in bright red.

My imagination melded Poltergeist with Ghost Whisperer and I saw the letters written in the blood of a dead man from inside the screen as a clue to his demise. Imagination is not always helpful.

The gentleman overseeing this part of the operation was neatly dressed in something like a mechanic may wear. He was affable and chatting with someone else in this trash tomb. There seemed to be a sense of pride in his work and the place was pretty immaculate – at least in this area – but still it had a stench.

I don’t ever want to go back there. But, if I am a responsible homeowner I will. I don’t expect us to have any more chemicals, but there will be paint cans and electronics and I will not add toxic waste to an already overtaxed landfill.

Do you ever fly? Have you flown over any mountains, in particular over the western United States where they are mostly scrubby and bare? You can really see how they came to be. I’m always mesmerized by the way Mother Earth has shaped (and continues to shape) herself. It’s plain to see how the mountains grew, pushed up and together by shifting plates and how they were shaped by wind and water. It’s so obvious. And beautiful.

Then flying over farmland, especially in the north-east, the earth is blanketed with a patchwork quilt of crops from small farms. Rows neatly planted, some dark green, others brown, but all planted with care. I’m always amazed by the neatness of it all.

But then there are the bodies of unrealistic milky green-blue water and endless crops of the same thing. There are landfills will tiny chimneys placed every so often, very strategically, to allow all the gasses from trash to escape so they don’t explode, I’m guessing. There are rows of buildings that house livestock and waterways cut into the landscape for irrigation where nothing is supposed to grow and to move toxic waste to, where?

I often wonder if it hurts. Mother Earth that is. What does it feel like to have so much foreign matter inserted subcutaneously? And the weird water, does that burn? Are the fields of frankencrops like eczema? Do the islands of plastic in the oceans feel like digestive blockages? Or tumors?

What have we done? And how can we do better?

This field trip was eye-opening. It’s not that I don’t know there is a copious amount of trash out there, I pass two landfills on my way south to visit friends, but that I am contributing to this at all makes me very sad. We’re recyclers (and soon to be composters) but that’s not enough. We have to be more mindful on the front end, about what we bring in. Just the other day I opted for two containers of cut up watermelon instead of the wedge I normally by. They were a bogo and less expensive for the same amount of watermelon. BUT, now I have two plastic containers that I will throw in the recycle bin and hope they make it somewhere to be melted and used again, when I could have tossed a rind back into nature.

It’s catching these things, being present while making buying decisions, that is the work. I have what I have and now that we’re digging in and purging in earnest, it’s helpful to see where we were awake and mindful and what we need to work on.

The lessons and process continues.

The Yoga of Stuff

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As I continue to eliminate the unwanted from my life I am constantly rubbing up against the ten tenets of Yoga. I can’t help it, I teach this stuff, I’m immersed in it. Just in case you’re working on your own purge, I thought I would share these gems with you today. Some seem more applicable to purging than others, but on some level they all kind of fit.

I’ll present them all to you simply and in English. Keep in mind that each of these is asking us to first look at how we are treating ourselves in thought, word or deed, then how we are with others. We cannot fully love another – without strings, conditions or barriers – without truly love ourselves. I know, that’s why it’s called a practice.

I’ll also fit them into the Minimalist/Purging framework, although I am certain you will recognize how these may apply more broadly to all of life.

The first five are restraints, those things we practice NOT doing. The second five are observations or those things we DO practice.

Not harming – Seems simple enough. Don’t hurt yourself, don’t hurt others. How might you be hurting yourself with stuff (other than tripping over it)? One way may be holding onto items that evoke negative or sad memories. Perhaps just having too much stuff is limiting; there’s a lot more to clean and manage that may be taking time away from what you’d really love to do. Or maybe too much stuff is simply stressing you out, clogging up your energy and creating general malaise.

Not lying or truthfulness – If you were completely honest with yourself would you really hold onto so much?

Not stealing – Obviously don’t take other people’s stuff, we’re trying to unload our own, remember? But what if we’re holding onto things that we’re not using, haven’t used for years, that could be useful to someone else?

Moderation – Be mindful about what you bring into your home, what you purchase, how much you have. Chances are you don’t need more organizational systems for your stuff, you need less stuff.

Non-attachment or non-hoarding – I probably don’t really need to elaborate.

Purity – Here’s an opportunity to visit your intentions with each of your things, especially when you’re considering bringing more things in. I like to equate purity with space and clutter with toxicity.

Contentment – Does your stuff bring you contentment? Hint: If you are constantly looking for things, probably not.

Discipline – This one is two-fold for me. There’s the obvious discipline of not bringing more unnecessary stuff into your home or life, but there’s also the structure to have what is already in your possession organized. A place for everything and the discipline to put it away when you aren’t using it.

Self-study – Watch your reactions to things. If you decide you’re going to clean out your clothes closet, notice what you are attached to and question it. Is it something you hope to fit into one day? Is it encouraging or frustrating? Is it even still in style or appropriate for where you are now? Could someone else benefit by having it?

Surrender – Ultimately, it’s about letting go of attachment. Trusting the process. When you create more physical space it allows room for more to come in. It’s not so much a shirt for a shirt, but more like a shirt for increased creativity or a raise at work or meeting a new special someone. Letting go is not giving up, it’s opening the door to opportunity.

Whether you’re a woo woo energy person or a chemical engineer I trust you know that more space and less stuff is good for you. Maybe these 10 guidelines will help, maybe you can redefine them to better fit your situation.

When you can come at this with compassion for yourself and your stuff it can be a very liberating experience.

 

 

 

 

White Space

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I have become a bit obsessed with stuff.

The mountain of papers, journals and other bits of detritus left behind by my mother has me wondering what compels people to keep what they do.

Both my husband and I have spaces in antique shops. His is full of books, lots and lots of books, as well as cool old ads and a few chatchkes. Mine is the result of some of my mother’s stuff. Nothing really of much value, but I couldn’t just toss it. In truth, most of her things ended up staying in her apartment for her neighbor or at a thrift store close to her home. What was left that didn’t occupy a sweet spot in my history went to the antique store.

To furnish these spaces we often attend estate sales and sometimes garage sales. I can tell a lot about the owners of these collections of things. What’s important to them, what fads they succumbed to, how old they likely are, where in the world they have been and of course their personal taste.

And I often wonder why they kept what they did. And why they bought it or how they got it.

What makes our stuff so important to us?

Every antique store I have been in has been stuffed to the rafters with memories left behind. Yet we are still manufacturing stuff at an alarming rate. Furniture is no longer meant to last longer than the trend that created it. Appliances and technology have built in obsolescence. There is no restaurant without a to-go option that usually requires materials that never bio-degrade. And everything needs accessories now.

It’s all just too much stuff.

Part of this year was to be about counting my things and releasing what I didn’t need or no longer used. I was hoping to get to a sort of baseline of things. X number of shirts and shoes, the perfect amount and blend of furniture, only books that are used for reference or are waiting to be read, nothing other than holiday decorations in storage. And even those are to be pared.

I don’t know that I’m truly up to the task. It all just makes me so tired.

My intentions are solid, but my resolve waivers from time to time. Part of the process I guess. I hope.

I don’t want to leave behind cryptic notes and journals filled with repetitive and never resolved thoughts, but I’m afraid I’ve already failed on the journal task.

When I travel abroad, I often stay in Airbnb apartments. Recently I rented a tiny two bedroom flat in Madrid. It was done entirely in Ikea with the exception of the rustic wood doors that covered the French doors. Everything was white with clean lines. There were maybe 8 “things” that served no real purpose, otherwise a small sofa, a tiny table and two chairs, a TV stand, a lamp. That was kind of it. It may sound more like a cell than an apartment but to me it was refreshing.

It was breathing space. Room to think. It helped tremendously that I was six time zones away from my stuff and the projects that await me, but it was also a glimmer into the way things could kinda-sorta be. To not have that tug that I should be doing something or something else other than what I’m doing. Just this. Just space.

Now whenever I am confronted by a box, or a pile of papers or even the garage (THE GARAGE!) I close my eyes and let my mind rest on all that clean, white, simple space.

It helps. The work continues.

This

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I had the day off today, really off. I was not required to go anywhere and the husband was working so the house was mine. The plan was to relax a little, study what I will be teaching tomorrow a little and clean a lot.

It started out well.

I got the laundry in around 8:30 AM. I set myself and my laptop up on the patio since it was overcast and cool enough to be outside, and I went over all my notes for tomorrow’s class.

Then something happened.

I still have a ton of my mother’s stuff to go through – mostly papers now – and it feels imperative to my purging process to take care of this. So I poked around my room a little to see if there were any boxes or notebooks stuffed into corners that needed attention.

Let’s just say 8 hours and two recycle bins later I am ankle deep in unplanned sorting and purging. Lucky for me, I fantasize about organizing. So this has actually been… fun? No, rewarding maybe. Productive? Satisfying. That’s it.

What I noticed about myself, my thoughts really, during the process is how they jumped from project to project while I was attempting to work on this one. Cleaning the house was back-burnered in favor of this impromptu purge, but laundry continued amidst the shuffling of papers.

There were future projects and current concerns also vying for attention. And I still wanted to clean.

While I was pulling the laundry from the washer and carrying it out to hang on the line, I would catch sight of my room and think, “I really want to put crown molding in there,” or “I need to get those two boxes out of the garage and go through them too,” or “If I switch the hood out on the kitchen remodel I can save almost $1,000,” and on and on.

This is normal for me. Probably you too. But it can be frustrating and fragmenting. I find myself trying rush through one thing to check it off to get to the next. This is my lifelong tendency. It often serves me well, but not always. It creates a false sense of urgency and what I really wanted today was to be where I was, doing whatever I was doing. In it, you know?

So I made an adjustment.

When I felt that usually helpful knot start to tie itself in my stomach I told my self, “Just do this.” And I had to remind myself a lot. It allowed a breath and a moment to refocus. A disruption.

Eventually it got shortened to “Just this.”

And then finally, “This.”

Present: being with whatever it is I am doing. Thoughts always interrupt, but it’s up to me to interrupt them to remain present. Now I have my code word when my mind runs amok with my attention.

This.

Personal History

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I am lost in a sea of personal history. Memories and emotions gently rock my present, nudging my attention this way and that.

My room: the repository of my past. Photos from as far back as 1800 and something. My great-grandparents parents photos and maybe their parents too. Some I know, some are magical ghosts of my DNA.

My room: the sanctuary of my creative aspirations. Over 20 boxes of hundreds of beads – many semi-precious stones that I could just caress for hours. I am partial to rubies, they feel mysterious and rich. Aquamarine gives me space, I can’t help but take a deep breath in when working with them. And sapphires are the keepers of  secrets. In boxes in my closet are unpainted canvases, paper cut for projects forgotten and photos I’ve taken and left to die in the back of a drawer.

My room:  the organizational nerve center. Four file drawers hold the remnants of an abandoned organizational system, files numbered and lettered but empty. Files full of bills paid, places to visit, the history of my pets and cherished documents that allow me to wander the earth.

My room: holder of tiny sacred spaces. An altar that continues to grow even though there appears to be no more room, sits atop a large bookcase. As I was counting it I thought I’d find new homes for some of the excess Buddhas and rocks, but there appears to be no such thing as excess Buddhas.

This was to be the last room on my list but something compelled me to “knock it out.” It’s been a week. More than. I’m almost done counting. That was supposed to be the easy part. But to count photos you must touch them and I don’t know about you, but I must also look at them. And as I do I am mentally eliminating some and finding purposes for others. I am sorting and organizing memories as if I can come back to them when I’m ready.

There are just a few boxes of photos left to count and then all the jewelry supplies. I have set a goal to complete the counting by the end of this week – Sunday. In the meantime I am surrounded by a mine field of unfinished projects. And it’s creating heaviness, filling spaces that I need free and open. Cards that need to be cut, photos to be sorted and culled, letters to be read and overall purging. This is just round one.

As I sort through the stuff that has built me I wonder what I am really hoping to gain by this process. My goal from the outset been space and time. I want to be able to walk into my home and not feel compelled to straighten up, but I sense something much deeper at work.

Urgency. I carry with me, deep in my gut, this sense of needing to get things done. Organizing, categorizing, sorting then storing. Get it done, check it off. But when it’s done will I be sad? Will I look for the next thing to accomplish no matter how trivial? Maybe that need will abate once things are ordered. Maybe not. This is the work of the process. This is why to abandon it or hold fast to rules would dilute the outcome.

It’s cranky and itchy, the process, but in a most informative way. It’s doing its work on me and I like, don’t like it. I think that means it’s working.

It’s Written in Hindu, in the Stars

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A few months ago, I had my Vedic Astrology chart done. It was infinitely entertaining and confusing. In spite of that, I learned a few things about myself that may explain some of my behaviors. But isn’t that how these always go? We fit our story into the fortune to create a reason from which we gain insight.

In addition, I have been writing my book on India (for four years now, but just recently with for real earnestness) and a few of my traits are being revealed to me here as well.

Stay with me, this all relates to the purging food organizational structure trying to find peace phase I’ve been going through the past 50 years or so.

In the astrology chart it shows that my ruling deity is Yama. He is the god of death. This excited me. What I have learned in this journey is death of anything makes room for new beginnings, new life. The death of an idea, a habit, yes, even a person, creates space. I do not wish to end the lives of others, I do however like to complete things. Moment to moment our inhale dies to the exhale, day dies to night and is reborn 12 hours later. The birth of a child is the death of the pregnancy. One year dies to the next and so on.

This chart also proclaims my dharma (the thing I was born to do) as “carrying things away.” This too, made sense. My favorite creature on the whole planet is the vulture – nature’s humble janitor. THEY CARRY THINGS AWAY. Stuff we don’t want, dead stuff, so we don’t have to deal with it. It’s noble.

The writing has revealed my tendency to live my life in fragmented sentences. Grammatically this would look like … To be continued, more to come, stay tuned. Which is completely counter to carrying things away or ending them.

Balance? Harmony? Insanity?

I rush. I cram too much stuff in. I’m learning to let go of a few things on my schedule.  I’m better at prioritizing. But there’s still a lot I don’t complete.

I noticed this as I was writing about an experience in the desert of India when I was on safari with a group. We were at a park looking for interesting animals and such. When I felt we had seen everything there was to see, I was ready to go. The yoga guru I was traveling with, chose that exact moment to lay down on the hard cracked earth, knees bent, hands folded on his belly. What? Why? C’mon! I walked back to the jeep like a spoiled child denied a treat.

The pouting lasted about 10 minutes. I walked back out to where he was and stood there willing him to hop up, clap his hands and say, “let’s go.” Instead he waxed poetic about all that he could see. For about 20 more minutes. I surrendered – mostly because I didn’t have a choice. When we finally did make it back to our jeeps to leave, the sky turned a brilliant orange. The setting ball of fire filtered through unseen pollution created a magical show for us. That we would have missed had my Vulcan mind meld worked.

I’m great at beginnings. I am an ideator, an instigator, a starter. Initiation is my wheelhouse. Implementation so-so. Completion? Let’s just call that an area of opportunity.

This purging, ordering, organizing, cataloging seems like a reaction to this fragmentation and a fulfillment of my dharma all at once. I am carrying away the stuff I no longer need. Or want. The physical and the energetic – if you believe in that hokum – are being distributed among friends, thrift stores and ebay.

It’s another project started that I intend to see through.

It seems the less stuff I have the more space there will be to complete those sentences. To sit still and notice. To be where I am when I am.

To stay for the sunset.

 

 

Naked Soap

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Now that I’ve counted and culled the bathrooms and linen closet it’s time to consider what’s left.

If I am truly using this exercise to be more  conscious of my purchases and choices then I need to spend some time contemplating what I’ve discovered.

As far as the above mentioned spaces are concerned I’ve identified three categories:

  1. Items used, that get used up – toilet paper, make-up, shampoo, etc.
  2. Decorative items – art work, decorative containers, superfluous things
  3. Items used on a continuous basis – towels, rugs, robes

I want to take my time to think about all three of these, but it’s that first one that is the most worrisome. Are there better choices? For me, for the environment? The answer is almost always yes.

Let’s look at some of these things up close and personal:

Nail polish remover. I would not need nail polish remover if I did not paint my toenails. I would not need nail polish either. And really probably not cotton balls. The only other reason I use cotton balls is to apply witch hazel on bug bites.

Soap. I have been transitioning from body wash and pump-style hand soap to bar soap recently. I have so many handmade soaps that I’ve been using for decoration that it seems silly to be buying plastic that will likely not get recycled when I can use something that will disintegrate with use over time. On a side note, I can also purchase this bar soap without any packaging which reduces waste even more.

A note to those concerned with bacteria and using the same bar of soap as someone else to wash your hands: in the nicest way possible, get over it. It’s soap, the more you use it, the cleaner your hands will get. We have created over-sensitive immune systems with all our anti-bacterial craziness. It has its place, but the general home bathroom isn’t it. Be brave. Unless you’re a doctor, then please sterilize your hands. And warm them up too, please.

Toothpaste. I’m not ready to make my own toothpaste.

First Aid. I feel justified in keeping the hydrogen peroxide, alcohol and witch hazel on hand. They last a long time.

Waste I know I will produce:

  • Toothbrushes – would electric be better? Are there compostable types?
  • Make-up containers – to be fair I use three items plus lip balm, I’m pretty low maintenance
  • Toilet paper – sorry, not sorry, gonna keep using this
  • Shampoo bottles – surely there is another option, refillable somewhere?
  • Razors – Larry does have an old fashioned one, I however do not
  • Lotion bottles – as with the shampoo, there may be great alternatives to uncover
  • Deodorant containers – crystal? Cream? Investigating

I can keep it to that and investigate other options. I can do better. In the investigation, ingredients and business practices will be taken into consideration. I love buying products from people I know. I have a face cream, lip balm and soap from various friends. I know there are good companies out there with sustainable practices and I intend to find them. I’ll be sure to share.

Speaking of friends, I have one who is a Zero Waste advocate. A serious one. She has built a whole non-profit business around it. I so admire the work she is doing and has done and she continues to inspire the choices I make. She is a big part of the inspiration behind this year long project. She has tons of suggestions on her site if you’re working on minimizing your stuff.

The second group of items is easier to work with. I don’t need any of them, they are there by preference. Some will stay, some will go. I’ll use Marie Kondo’s method of holding each item and asking myself if I love it. In the bathrooms, there are maybe a dozen of these items tops and most of them were purchased at vintage shops or given to me as gifts.

The third item in the list could use a little attention. For some reason, I have quite a few hand towels. I think I will replace those with washcloths in each bathroom, that just seems more practical. The hand towels can go to Good Will or better yet, a veterinary clinic.

The towels and rugs I use I’ve had a long time and feel pretty good about those choices. All cotton, soft and durable, when they wear out they’ll go the way of the hand towels.

All in all I feel pretty good about my progress. More investigation is called for into those items that are in containers that I keep purchasing. There are some great mindful companies out there using innovative packaging with exceptional products inside. I intend to find them and share.

Keeping the nail polish for now…It’s Florida, by feet rarely hibernate inside shoes. And I’m on the hunt for a biodegradable toothbrush option. I’m sure there’s one out there.

[Photo was taken at Lucky’s Market, my new obsession. Naked soap, miles of bulk foods and affordable organic veggies.]