Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cape Horn, Shoe Horns and the Art of Purging

Cape Horn, Shoe Horns and the 
art of purging

Ten Ways to Declutter for the Slightly Sentimental

If getting rid of everything you have not used or worn in the last six months sounds absurd, this blog is for you.   Do all these so-called "organizational experts" live in 800 sq. foot apartments in Manhattan?  

The most recent litmus test I have read about for keeping your stuff is, “does it bring you joy?”  I get their point but who can really do this?  My exercise bike does not bring me joy, panty hose does not bring me joy, neither does my foam roller to roll out sore muscles after running.  Joy?  Hardly!   

I will admit - joy is freedom from stuff.  Joy is simple.  Yet, not all  things can be joyful all the time.  My whole hearted desire is to reduce, reuse and recycle.  Cross my heart and hope to die;  I want to be minimalistic.  Simplicity is refreshing and unencumbered.  My soul longs for that freedom.  

An ominous and ever present battle currently exists.  The world wants us to have stuff.  The conspiracy seduces us into believing we must acquire, buy, sell, make, manage, and finance stuff.  Television sells stuff.  The internet force feeds us stuff. It will make us richer, thinner, younger, happier.  Really?  

Stuff is the true robber of Joy.  Not only do we pay for stuff, we maintain it, inventory it, protect it, insure it, clean it, organize it, store it, rotate it.  I feel exhausted already and for the record, I am not richer, thinner or younger.

Other than never buying it is the first place, purging is the first and necessary step to win the war against stuff.  Obviously, the word purge has some additional meanings, but these are my two favorites and one I made up.  

  1. to rid, clear, or free
  2. to clear of imputed guilt or ritual uncleanliness.
  3. to win the post consumer war against the thief of joy

"Opportunity knocks" is a mantra in our home and when it comes to travel, we jump.  My husband was recently invited to fill a last minute cancellation on a trip to Antarctica.  To reach the continent of Antarctica, one must travel by boat around Cape Horn; officially known for the roughest water in the world and nicknamed the “sailors graveyard.”

Cape Horn marks the entrance of a narrow passage where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans collide. Due to the winds coming off both bodies of already turbulent water; it is not uncommon to have 50 foot swells and occasionally a rogue 100 foot wave.  

My husband is the quintessential “boat guy.”  Even with a good set of sea legs, we have teased him about the probability of purging as he travels through the rough waters of the Drake Passage.  Considering his potential for misery, I decided, if he can purge - I can purge.

In spite on numerous remodeling projects over thirty years, we have never painted our closet.  No kitchen; no problem.  Using another bathroom for six weeks; do-able.  However, moving out all personal belongings from our closet for several days has been a disruption we apparently have not been willing to endure.  Like most shared walk-in closets, it is where the southern ying and the eastern yang of turbulent oceans collide.  Ours is no different.

After emptying our closet of its contents, I was overwhelmed and full of regret.  I had a flashback of once trying to get an air mattress back into its ridiculously small box and wondered how I would even finish what I started.  However, there was no turning back.

“When  something or someone no longer serves a positive influence in your life, it may be time for a PURGE.”

This is the time of year that Americans reorganize and after all, it is not only about bringing yourself joy but finding peace in your surroundings, right?  That place of balance is different for everyone and the challenge is finding where your personal equilibrium lies.

I needed ideas and solutions for decluttering.  There had to be a better way.  If we really want to get down to brass tacks, there is often more going on than merely redistributing and organizing our stuff so that it fits “better”.  There can be some underlying reasons why we hold on to our stuff in the first place.  

“Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions.”  - Barbara Hemphill

In a blog entitled, "The Why of Clutter", the suggestion that our clutter tells us quite a bit about who we are and why we hang on to what we keep.  It is an fascinating read if you are ready to understand or listen to the wisdom trapped in the odds and ends we accumulate.

Real purging and the fine art of letting go must be accompanied with a firm commitment that we will not regret!  Let me repeat, NOT REGRET!  We simply can’t languish next summer over the jacket with sequins we donated that we could have used to make a handbag.   Instead, it becomes more about a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the things we keep.  Our choice is to look forward - and resist the temptation to look back.   

With a little research under my belt, here is my list of the "best of the best" for purging.  It is a list I can live with.

Decluttering for the slightly sentimental:

1. In your decision to purge - be brave, be resolute and be strong!  No regrets!

2. Have a plan or a motto and stick to it.  My motto - Do I need it, use it, or does it bring me joy?   If I can’t answer yes to one of those questions - Bye, bye.  Five multi-colored shoe horns?  Does anyone still use those?  My exercise bike - I still need that, darn!  Panty hose, Ugh!

3. If you can’t see it, you won’t use it. Find ways to make things visible and accessible.  If you have five bins stacked on top of each other in the garage, you won’t get something out and you certainly won’t put it back if you do.

4. Allow yourself some special and sentimental things but decide how much space you will devote to them.  Each of my kids got a “special bin” for their treasures.  Don’t worry, they change over time so giving them each one bin was never a problem. They rotate out their treasures and wonder why they kept some of them in the first place.

5. Make your space happy.  Use quotes, plagues, sentimental family items, and trinkets picked up on vacation to lift your spirits and remind you of wonderful experiences.   

6. Even while purging, put things away as you go.  You can go through those spaces when you get to them.  Otherwise you just move stuff around and make little progress.

7. Tackle the paper dragon - Photograph papers, business cards, receipts or use apps such as “Scannable” and save to the cloud.  Create a paper file for the most important documents as backup.  Try to only touch paper one time and deal with it as you get it. Then - Toss it!

8. Make a commitment to stay on top of things. A place for everything and everything in its place.  When well organized, it is just as easy to put it where it goes as on the floor. 

9. Allow yourself a junk drawer, stash shelf or space.  We all need a place to put things in a hurry.  When it is full, tackle it.  Don’t allow it to spill over into more space - unless someone died.

10. Realize this is a process.  Tackle one space a day, one room a week, or an area every six months.  You decide.  This is a journey to bring us more joy; not to create more stress.  Do it at your own pace.

My closet is newly painted, my stuff has all been assigned a new place and I feel a pretty good sense of accomplishment.  I bravely sent many items to Goodwill and know they will find another good home with people that can use them.  Life is good.

Two days later, I find myself getting ready for the day and wish I had that wide belt I just gave away.  NO REGRETS, remember!  Sheesh!

photo credit: quotes;

Friday, January 1, 2016

Through Small and Simple Things New Years Resolutions 2016

Through Small and Simple Things
New Years Resolutions 2016

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.”  
~ Jimmy Johnson

Another Christmas season winds itself down as another cultural surge pushes forward.  This surge is as relentless and cleansing as an incoming tide on a sandy beach leaving little or no trace of prior human activity.  Like those restoring waves, retailers everywhere waste no time clearing aisles of holiday wrappings, trinkets and bows only to roll out colorful containers, bins and organizational paraphernalia almost erasing the holiday season before it comes to its predictable conclusion.   

If ever there was a soul that thrives on organization, it is mine.  There is no shortage of products available to organize every possible aspect of one’s life.  The irony of all of this is that I am not amazingly organized.  I am a compulsive organizer “wanna be.”  I want to LIVE at the Container Store. My inner classifying, categorizing, codifying “nerd” fights the impulse to hyperventilate as I walk down aisle after aisle of beautifully constructed boxes, files, and compartmentalized products.  I almost believe that these products can and will change my life.

Organizing is only one aspect of a process of renewal that happens at the beginning of each year.   There is something about this human desire to start anew.   Whether myth, ridiculous fantasy or, for some, absolute reality, the notion that each January presents another chance to right the wrongs, refocus the confusion, simplify a life that has (once again) gotten away from us.  Thus, the notion of New Years resolutions is alive and well in the twenty first century.  

My personal preference for making resolutions is to craft a “theme”.  A theme is a focus or an attitude for change rather than a list of resolutions that are quickly forgotten by February.  This busy holiday season has worn me out and the resounding notion rattling around in my head is to focus on “the small and simple things” in my life.  Sure, we can get caught up in the minutia of small things and lose sight of the big picture or the ability to dream big.   That is not what I am talking about.  I am talking about the little details that take something from good to exceptional.  J. Willard Marriott, Founder of the Marriott hotel chain, knows a little something about dreaming big and having a grand vision and yet he said, “It’s the little things that make the big things possible.”  Winston Churchill had a tremendous impact on our modern world and the outcome of World War II and yet he claims that “success is in the details.”  Other noteworthy quotes suggesting a narrow trajectory separating good from great are:

“The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.” 
~ Charles R. Swindoll. 

If there is anything, as right brain oriented person, I have learned over the years it is that beauty and art are made in the details.  The details are where unique design brings personality and panache to all that we do.  Details are the difference makers - the add-ons, the perks, the creme de la creme.  For some reason it feels like I have focused on big things for quite some time rather than the refreshing details. I am a bit of an overachiever and my nature has always been to run faster than I am able, except, of course, when it comes to actually running.   There are so many small things that I have overlooked that need my attention.  I run marathons, but have overlooked the supporting muscles that would actually assist me in lifting a bag of groceries from the car.  My body gets plenty of exercise but what of my aging mind and my ability to stay on task?  Day in and day out I complete project after project, but am I giving my body the rest it needs as I flop into bed after setting the alarm for another ungodly hour?  Perhaps I need to take a deep breath and slow it all down just a bit and focus on improving what is already available to me.  

Without question, I can be more resourceful in recycling, repurposing, and reconstructing things around me.  Deliberate and careful thought can go into the way I spend my time and my money.  Stacks of books that have already been purchased for me to study and discover just await.  It wouldn’t hurt me to drink more water, eat more vegetables, stretch more after my morning run.   After all, we are only given one life and one body and this body is getting old.

“Is our journey sometimes impeded when we forget the importance of
small things?  Do we realize that small events and choices determine the direction of our lives just as small helms determine the direction of great ships?”  ~ Russell M. Ballard

I borrowed an illustration of how big differences can come from small things from

“Consider this.  If you’re going somewhere and you’re off course by just one degree, after one foot, you’ll miss your target by 0.2 inches.  Trivial, right?  But what about as you get farther out?
  • After 100 yards, you’ll be off by 5.2 feet.  Not huge, but noticeable.  
  • After a mile, you’ll be off by 92.2 feet.  One degree is starting to make a difference.
  • After traveling from San Francisco to L.A., you’ll be off by 6 miles.
  • If you were trying to get from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., you’d end up on the other side of Baltimore, 42.6 miles away.
  • Traveling around the globe from Washington, D.C., You’d miss by 435 miles and end up in Boston.
  • In a rocket going to the moon, you’d be 4,169 miles off (nearly twice the diameter of the moon.)
  • Going to the sun, you’d miss by over 1.6 million miles (nearly twice the diameter of the sun)
  • Traveling to the nearest star, you’d be off course by over 441 billion miles (120 times the distance from he earth to Pluto, or 4,745 times the distance from Earth to the sun.)
Over time, a mere one-degree error in course makes a huge difference.”

Just as changing the course of a ship five degrees or ones own steps just one degree will make a huge impact over time; making course corrections by improving my daily routine with some level of consistency might do more for me in the long run than many more ambitious goals. 
No time is better than the present to change things up a bit by shifting focus to the small and lovely details of love and life through redirecting some energy of making complicated things more simple.  Of course, this will mean I accomplish less.  (This sentence is even difficult to write, let alone to consider for me.)  But in another way, it could ultimately mean accomplishing more because I think real joy resides in small things - the extra touches; the embellishments.  

“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your
 strength lies.” - Mother Teresa

Would it be too bold to say I have high hopes of big outcomes from my new plan of focusing on small changes?   After all, an overachiever can’t change completely in one year.