Hoarding Inner Peace

Clutter is the physical equivalent of noise.

Recently, I had the experience of entering a house that was so crowded with stuff that not a single flat surface was free. It was really hard to move in there. I don’t know if these people are hoarders, necessarily, or a family with small children living in a space much too small for them, but nevertheless, it was my worst nightmare. I didn’t get a feeling of home sweet home in that place as much as I felt overwhelmed and stressed out.

Maybe it’s the introvert in me, but my brain seems to interpret clutter as the physical equivalent of noise. This place made me feel like I was in a heavy metal concert, seated right in front of the speakers. My instinct was to get out as quickly as possible.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m the neatest, most organized person in the world. No, I have my fair share of clutter. But this place made my home seem minimalist by comparison. My home is functional. There are tables where one can actually sit down and eat a meal. There are counters where vegetables are chopped. There are floors that are visible and walkable. One doesn’t have to climb over things to navigate the space. When I get home at the end of the day, it feels like a sanctuary, not a prison.

I would not be able to rest with so much stuff around me. I would feel no inner peace. I wouldn’t be able to think, let alone feel comfortable. I’d feel as if I had no opportunity to unplug from the world. I need that.

I’m doing my best to get rid of stuff. My husband and I rarely exchange gifts, even at Christmas. We’d much rather have experiences and create memories.

If I’m going to hoard something, I’d much rather hoard inner peace.

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Making Headway

Never give chaos the recognition it craves.

I’ll tell you a little secret that will stun you: I used to be on top of things. Yeah, I know, right? Me? Organized? Hard to believe.

But it’s true. For years there, my to-do list wasn’t so long as to overwhelm me to the point of near paralysis. I was actually efficient. Stuff got done. All my trains ran on time.

I don’t know when I started losing my grip and slowly sliding toward the whirlpool of utter chaos, but here I am. It seems as though staying organized is like treading water. You can’t ever slack off, even for a minute, or you start to sink. And once you start sinking, it’s a lot harder to get your head above water again.

One trick I’ve had to learn over and over and over again is not to give chaos the recognition it craves. Once you’ve done that, it engulfs you. It’s just too much. You become convinced that you’re never going to see your way clear.

No. The trick is to focus on one thing. Just one little thing. Do that. Feel that sense of accomplishment? That’s your superpower. The more you feel that, the more you’re able to do. A friend of mine calls this keeping your eye on the shovel. The shovel. Not the great steaming pile of… stuff that needs shoveling. And before you know it, the mound is a manageable size.

I’ve been really sick for about a month, so I’ve been feeling more paralyzed by inactivity than normal, but the other day I finally got done one thing that I had been putting off for months, and man, was that ever a fantastic feeling! And that gave me the strength to do something else. And I really feel a lot better now.

There’s still a ton of stuff to do. There always will be. But I feel like I’m coping again.

I just have to remember that just as you should never look down when you’re afraid of heights, you should also never look chaos in the eye. He does not have your best interests at heart.


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The Causes of Clutter

“Do you really need 8 garlic presses?”

My fiancé and I are preparing for a future consolidation of our two houses. After 50 plus years of separate accumulation, needless to say, clutter has been on my mind quite a bit of late.

I think the mistake I’ve been making with my clutter is assuming that it’s all due to an overwhelming amount of laziness and an utter lack of organization. I’ve always felt that if I could get off my behind and just get with the program, all my clutter problems would be solved. Well, after a fair amount of internet searching about clutter and it’s causes, I now think a lot differently about my stuff.

In particular, I found this short video, entitled THE two things that cause ALL clutter to be most helpful indeed. Basically, it demonstrates that there are two reasons for clutter: Deferred Decisions and Incomplete Actions.

Some examples of Deferred Decisions are:

  • I am keeping this item because I might use it as xyz. Or maybe I’ll just throw it away. I haven’t decided.

  • These clothes don’t fit me. I don’t know whether to keep them in hopes that I lose weight, or give them away.

  • This is a pile of books I will probably never read. But you never know.

Some examples of Incomplete Actions are:

  • I’ve been meaning to give this to my sister, but I haven’t gotten around to it.

  • I put that there to do something with, and I forgot all about it.

  • I plan to sell this, but I haven’t posted it on Craig’s List yet.

  • I have these craft supplies because I plan to make something with them, but I haven’t found the time.

  • I’ve been meaning to sort through these obsolete phones and computers and get rid of them, but I haven’t taken the time.

  • I’ve been meaning to transfer these photos/Cassette recordings to digital to create more space. One of these days.

Once you look at things from the lens of Delayed Decisions and Incomplete Actions, it’s a lot easier to get moving on them. With the former: Make your decision! Don’t put it off. There’s no time like the present. With the latter: complete that action. Just do it.

Easier said than done, I know. But what I’m finding is that it’s a lot simpler to follow through on this stuff if my fiancé is present. He doesn’t judge. He just acts as a logical sounding board, and points out the obvious.

“Are you really ever going to play that ukulele again?” “Even if you fit into those clothes again, are they your style anymore?” “I know a great place where you can have your cassettes digitized. Let’s consolidate them into one box and do that on Wednesday.” “Do you really need 8 garlic presses?” “If that has sentimental value, maybe you should keep it. Or maybe you should take a picture of it to keep, and then pass it on to someone who could use it.”

I’ve made more progress with his help in the past few weeks than in all the time I’ve tried to tackle it alone. When I die, whoever has the unenviable task of sorting through my personal effects will want to kiss him on the lips.

Another thing that has incentivized me is that my neighborhood is planning a community garage sale later this month. That would be a great opportunity to try to sell stuff. But anything that doesn’t go will NOT go back into the house. Period. It will either go to Goodwill or I will put it on Craig’s List for sale THAT DAY, and leave it on the back porch for a maximum of two weeks in hopes of sale.

But, back to my original argument about laziness and lack of organization. The good news is that you don’t have to get rid of everything. Thinking you do is half of what has probably caused your inaction. No, there are some things that are

Not clutter, but a mess:

  • Photos. (But do try to digitize as many of them as you can.)

  • Things that have sentimental value (and a photo won’t suffice).

  • Things you really have used within the past year.

Once you’ve gotten rid of all the other stuff, it’s time to organize the mess. But that will be a whole lot easier when you have the space. And, if you’re like me, as you make more and more progress, you’ll feel proud of your accomplishments and you’ll be energized.

Wish me luck! If I can do this, you can do this. And, like a shoe that’s two sizes too small, it’ll feel soooo good when it’s gone.


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When Things Fall Into Place

For me, there is nothing quite as satisfying as those brief, random moments when the chaos that usually swirls about me suddenly becomes a comprehensible, stable, solid whole. Maybe it’s because I’m a worrier and a planner, but that “All’s Right with the World” feeling often eludes me. That makes it all the more precious when it does stop by for a short visit.

For example, during this whole home buying and moving process, I’ve had a to-do list that’s 12 pages long. I’ve often woken up in the middle of the night, thinking of something important to add to it. If I don’t sit up, turn on the light and write that thing down, I’ll lie awake and go over it in my mind for hours. I’ve taken to leaving my to-do list on my night stand. If you want to see me absolutely wig out (and trust me, you don’t), just hide that list.

My stress level spikes around those to-do items that require me to rely on other people. Is it a West Coast thing? No one around here seems to be the least bit dependable. That drives me up a wall. If my friends need me, or I’ve made a professional obligation, you can count on me to follow through. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it, unless I’m dying. How hard is that? Apparently it’s pretty freakin’ hard if you are anywhere near the Pacific Ocean. Go figure.

But every now and again, all the puzzle pieces seem to fall into place. People show up on time and do what you so desperately need them to do. And maybe a little extra. “Oh, you’re trying to get rid of a washing machine? I’ll be happy to take it off your hands, too!” “Need some extra money? Well, here’s some overtime!” “Sure! I’m available to clean your carpet on the only possible day you have available for me to clean your carpet!”

I love that feeling of weight being lifted off my shoulders. At times like those, I can breathe. I never realize I’m holding my breath, but apparently I do it quite a bit. But then, all of a sudden, whoosh! Oxygen to the system! It rarely lasts long, and those moments are always unexpected, but I’ll take ‘em!


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Keep Your Distance–Demolition in Progress

I have this friend who is a great guy. In many ways, he’s the male version of me. He loves to travel, is liberal, and is a bit of a science nerd. He’s curious about the world and the people in it. He’s got a lot of stories to tell and he’s fun to banter with. For a brief, shining moment, there, I had a massive crush on him.

But here’s where we part company: His very existence is a slow motion train wreck. He has no steady employment and no steady address. There’s absolutely no stability in his life whatsoever.

I may be biased toward my Capricornian sense of organization and planning and order, but it seems to me that if you are that much of an eff up in your 50’s, you’ve had to put a great deal of time and effort into it. Granted, unexpected things can happen, and you never know when fate is going to kick you in the teeth, but to consistently operate without a stable foundation for your whole life long requires a certain skill set that eludes me.

Okay, to assume I know what’s best for everyone may be typical of me, but even I realize that that’s not particularly realistic. And yet I have to say that I have watched this guy make certain choices that were bound to have disastrous results. It almost seems as though he does these things to himself on purpose. Chaos is drawn to him like a moth to a flame.

The only reason for this that I can think of is that it’s a highly effective way to keep people at arm’s length. It’s a rare individual who will voluntarily run into a burning building, after all. And this amazing, lovable guy is a towering inferno.


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First Things First

I take pride in having my sh*t together, but if I’m honest, I haven’t really had it together in quite some time. I’m not quite sure when I lost all sense of organization, but it was, oh…decades ago? Because of that, when the occasional crisis happens, as they do, I tend to feel extremely overwhelmed.

So when my niece’s husband broke his neck and I started a GoFundMe Campaign for him, for about a week there I was bouncing around like a pinball. A lot of things got neglected. Oh, the dogs were fed, and so was I, and I remembered to put on clean undies, but pretty much everything else fell by the wayside.

I wasn’t returning phone calls or responding to e-mails, which made me feel guilty. I HATE it when people do that to me, after all. And I had to wash the same load of laundry three times because I’d keep forgetting to take it out of the washer and by the time I remembered, the clothes did not smell at all good. My already piss-poor diet got even pissier and poorer.

And the deadline for publishing my anthology is rapidly approaching. And my bills need to be paid. And I have promises to keep, and miles to go… yadda yadda.

I now understand why squirrels will freeze in the middle of the road when a car is bearing down on them. There are so many things that need doing at that moment that you just don’t know where to begin.

But then a friend reminded me: first things first. Rather than try to look at and do everything at once, sometimes you have to focus on one thing at a time. What is most mission-critical?

That’s easy. Family. Always. Every single time. So I focused on the fundraiser, and let the laundry worry about itself. And lo and behold, the world kept revolving around the sun.


Defragging My Life

You know you’ve put off defragging your hard drive for way too long when the software says, “Estimated running time: > 1 day”. Oops. My bad.

All of you computer savvy folks can skip the next two paragraphs. For the rest of us who struggle with the subtle nuances of all things technical, this is how defragging was explained to me:

Imagine you have a shelf of encyclopedias. (Remember those?) But you also have a house full of lazy kids. One of them has left volume S in his gym locker. Another one has Q propping up a table leg. B got loaned to a random friend. So now you’ve got a shelf of info with some gaps, and books scattered all over hell’s half acre.

Now imagine you have to access information from several volumes. You can’t just look on a neatly ordered shelf. Oh, no. This is going to take more time and effort. This is how your computer feels, pretty much daily. By defragmenting your data, or “defragging”, you’re putting order back on your shelf, and therefore speeding up your computer. It’s a good idea to defrag now and then. Most of you probably have defragging software on your computer already, but for those of you who can no longer find it (Thanks a lot, Windows 8!) you can get a free version called Defraggler here. End of lesson.

Anyway, while watching my computer defragment itself for hours and hours and hours, I started thinking. I really need to defrag my whole life. To say that I live in a state of barely controlled chaos is a gross understatement. I used to be so organized. At what point did I lose all control? I have no idea.

I have a pile of things on my nightstand that urgently need to be dealt with, but it’s been sitting there so long that the things on the bottom of the pile have long since lost their urgency. I have a room full of boxes that I’ve yet to unpack from when I moved to Seattle a year and a half ago. I have books that I haven’t read in years and I know I never will. Why do I keep them? I have tons of things that have sentimental value, but the older I get, the less sentimental I seem to become. I need to get my act together.

The funny thing is, I know that I feel better about life in general when I’m more organized. I have no idea what’s holding me back. Pure laziness? It feels more complex than that, but I can’t be bothered to figure it out. I just need to keep chipping away at it and hope that someday I’ll reach that magic tipping point where I actually have a handle on things again and life gets easier.

A girl can dream, can’t she?


Best Laid Plans

‘Twas a rainy Seattle morning, and I was looking forward to a nice quiet shift on the bridge. Most boaters would not be out in this muck. I planned to drink my green tea, write my blog, and just relax.

Then a maintenance crew showed up. I had forgotten they were coming. No big deal. They’re professionals. They know what they’re doing. They need very little help from me. I just need to ensure that I don’t open the bridge while they’re hip-deep in machinery. Easy enough. We have safety procedures in place.

Then I heard the skidding of brakes. That sound instantly puts me on edge. I looked out the window, and there’s a bicyclist lying unconscious in the middle of the street. Not good. In fact, very, very bad. A crowd is already gathering. Traffic is backing up. I call 911. The first responders arrive with lightning speed. Then I call traffic control to let them know the road is blocked. Then the paperwork begins.

All told, the situation lasted less than an hour, but I’m still rattled. Why is that? The woman is going to be all right, but from the looks of her, she won’t be eating soup for quite some time. She landed face first on the grating.

I’m sure part of my feeling is the aftermath of an adrenaline dump. That’s never fun. But there’s also this feeling of being uprooted. I expected to be in one place (a nice quiet control tower, with my green tea and my blog) and was instead thrust headlong into another (your basic SNAFU). I almost felt as though I’d been abducted.

In addition, my ability to plan and organize was ripped from me. I had no time to prepare. These are comfort zones that I dislike having to depart from.

I didn’t panic. Everything went as smoothly as it could, given the circumstances. And while I wish this hadn’t happened to that poor woman, if it had to, it went as well as it could.

And yet I’m still rattled. But I still have my green tea and my blog.

I think I need a hug.


Is a Puzzlement

I tend to spend an embarrassingly substantial chunk of my life doing jigsaw puzzles on my laptop. Even when I’m watching movies. I have to be doing something. For some reason puzzles bring me a great deal of comfort and reduce my stress. But why is that?

After thinking about it for a day or two, I believe I have the answer. Puzzles have defined parameters. The rules never change. There are boundaries. Working on them is a way of bringing order from chaos. And as you make progress, the job gets easier and easier because you have fewer pieces from which to choose. With a puzzle, you know that if you just stick with it, everything will be all right in the end. You will succeed. And what you end up with will be pretty.

If the rest of my life were like a jigsaw puzzle, I’d be queen of the world.


[Image credit: besttoysforkids.fdicenter.org]

At What Point Did I Lose All Control?

Once upon a time, I balanced my checkbook, folded all my clothes, and actually could see most of the flat surfaces in my home. There was a place for everything, and everything was in its place.

I changed the oil in my car like clockwork, I observed people’s birthdays, and doing my taxes was a breeze because all my records were organized months in advance.  I even had my browser favorites separated into little folders based on their subject matter.

No, I didn’t do things like alphabetize my spice rack or iron my underwear, but things were easier to find and seemed to take up a heck of a lot less space. Now it seems that chaos reigns supreme in my world.

Somewhere along the line I got tired and I got lazy. Being efficient takes energy. But then, living in the midst of a clutter tornado isn’t exactly relaxing either. The thing is, once you’ve lost that momentum, it’s hard to get the ball rolling again.

I’d say more, but I need to dig something out of the mound of stuff in my closet. If you don’t hear from me in 24 hours, send pizza.


Chaos by Tim Henderson

To see more of his amazing art, go here.