The Causes of Clutter

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.

clutter

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The Letting Go

When my mother died, I hung on to this bottle of deodorant she had given me until long after it had been used up. Because she gave it to me. I think I got it into my head that getting rid of that bottle would be like losing my connection with her. I just couldn’t do it. Not at that point.

I have other things that belonged to my mother, of course. Jewelry. Family heirlooms of one kind or another. Photographs. These things make sense. But an empty deodorant bottle? Come on, now.

Then, four years ago, my boyfriend died quite unexpectedly. Since we weren’t legally married, I was left with very little of his to cling to. Once again, I had a bottle of deodorant. This wasn’t a gift to me. But it had belonged to him. It smelled like him. Again, I held onto it for years.

Finally, several weeks ago, almost without thinking about it, I reached into my medicine cabinet with my eyes closed and threw that sucker out. Just like that. Just like I had eventually done with my mother’s bottle. It was time. My life is moving on.

And guess what? The world kept right on spinning. The sky didn’t crack open. My connection is every bit as strong. My memories are intact. All continued to be right with the world. And now I have more room in my medicine cabinet.

It’s okay to let go of things. Things aren’t people. Things only have an emotional charge if you give one to them. Yes, hold onto those photos and heirlooms. They are part of a family legacy. But don’t cling to someone else’s clutter. Make room in your life for your life.

No pressure, though. You’ll know when and if it’s time to let go. Only you can decide that.

Since the deodorant disposal (not because of it), my life seems to be progressing at a rapid pace, and I love the direction in which it’s going. So just the other day I decided it was time to let more go. It was time to scatter the last of Chuck’s ashes.

The fact that I even have any in the first place is a pure miracle. Some of his relatives felt I didn’t deserve any after “living in sin” with him for four years. Others, though, who knew how much we loved each other, liberated some and slipped a tiny bottle of them into my purse. So I had this tiny bottle, and have cherished it ever since. But it was time to set Chuck, and myself, free.

Where would I do this, though? He’d never even been to Seattle. He’d have had a love/hate relationship with it. I think he’d have loved it this time of year, but not in the winter. I think he’d have loved the many things there are to do, but not the politics.

He’d have loved the water and mountain view at my work. So that’s where I decided to do it. When I got there, though, it occurred to me that the only window that actually opens out over the water is the one in the bathroom.

You had to know Chuck. But trust me, he’d have appreciated that irony. He’d have thought it was freakin’ hilarious. So, after depositing a tiny bit of him in a perfume locket that I have (where he’s encountering my mother for the first time), I held the bottle in my hands and opened the window.

“Chuck,” I said, “I love you. I think you know that my life has become magical and wonderful again, and it’s time to let you go. I truly believe you’re happy for me. I’ll miss you. I’ve still got pictures and memories, and you’ll always have a piece of my heart. But I’m still alive, and it’s time to live again. It’s time to embrace the joy of the here and the now and the future. I know you get that. You probably get it more than most people do. So here goes. Safe journey.”

And as I scattered the ashes, a sudden gust of wind blew some of them back into my face. The bathroom and I were now covered in Chuck. I laughed as I cried, because he’d have laughed. I could hear him in my mind, that wonderful, infectious, breathless, delighted chuckle of his.

And it was good.

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Incremental Changes

About two months ago I had a very old filling replaced, and that tooth has been giving me agony on and off ever since. It makes me wonder if I should have left well enough alone, and mercury be damned. Probably not. But I do have my moments.

At first, even the slightest contact with the tooth above would have me clinging to the ceiling like a cartoon cat. So, the dentist made a slight adjustment. Just the tiniest change, the size of the head of a pin. That was all it took.

But when you think about it, every mountain peak ends in a microscopic, pin-sized point. But when you pound on that point hard enough, the mountain feels it. (In this scenario I suppose I am the mountain, which is a comparison I’m usually loathe to make. I’d much rather be the mole hill.)

That first adjustment made a huge difference. Pressure was no longer an issue, but unfortunately heat and cold were. Those abrupt changes would send the pain radiating up to the very front of my mouth. That was no fun. So, more adjustments were in the offing. Each one made a slight improvement, and yet the pain persisted.

You have no idea how often you change the climate in your mouth on a daily basis until it causes a pain response. Mercy me.

So, yeah, the tooth is still a work in progress, getting better all the time, but it occurs to me that it’s also a metaphor for life. At least for my life.

I do stuff, hoping to make things better. Occasionally, all holy hell breaks loose. Sometimes I get hurt. So I make a change. It might seem like a small change, but it’s effective. Things get better. So I make another small change, and so on. Much of the time those around me don’t even realize that the mountaintop of my life is a work in progress, but I’m acutely aware of it.

Eventually, I hope to achieve balance and contentment. Isn’t that everyone’s goal to some degree? But it’s a process. Sometimes a painful one. I do take comfort in the fact that the one constant is that I seem to be learning things along the way.

It might be a daily grind, dear reader, but grind on. You’ll get there.

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Used-to-Be-Mountains

Just about every day that I work on one of the drawbridges that crosses the Ship Canal here in Seattle, I open my bridge for a 2000 gross ton gravel barge. That’s a lot of gravel. If it were being transported by semi truck, that would be an average of 186 trucks per barge. Every day.

Island Chief Ballard

That had me wondering where this gravel was coming from, and where it was going. Well, the answer is, it comes from Dupont, Washington, which is south of Tacoma, and it is carried up to Kenmore, which is at the northernmost tip of Lake Washington.

There are several pits and quarries in the Dupont area. One is shown below. I’m amazed the entire region isn’t one massive hole, based on what I’ve seen float past my window.

When it arrives in Kenmore, it is taken to CalPortland, the largest producer of sand, gravel and quarry rock in the Pacific Northwest. They make products such as ready mix concrete, corrugated pipe, assorted building materials and asphalt.

There’s no question that this region is booming, and I suppose that most would consider this a good thing, but I look at those barges with a certain level of despair. What I see is “used-to-be-mountains.” And according to this article in Science Alert, the world is actually facing a sand crisis that most of us haven’t even noticed.

When the world’s population increases, the need for building materials increases. But there’s only so much sand and gravel to go around. It’s getting so bad that organized crime groups are actually selling sand and gravel on the black market, and violence has  broken out over sand. Sand!

We take it for granted, because we walk down beaches and feel it between our toes, but sand is actually a limited resource along the lines of water. Without it, we will see increasing erosion, and that’s compounded by the fact that sea levels are rising. Barrier islands and wetlands that protect communities from tsunamis and flooding are starting to disappear.

Many species that depend on sand as an important part of their habitat, such as crocodiles and turtles, are starting to be endangered as well. Further, the standing pools of water that are created when you remove sand are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and bacteria that cause a variety of diseases. This is a problem that we need to take seriously.

We are raised to believe that progress is good. We try not to think about what disappears as a result of this progress. We don’t think about limits. We don’t think about the end of things. We just take, take, take. One barge load at a time.

Kapowsin Quarry

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Who You Were

I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am that I’m not who I was as a teenager. Sure, I have many things in common with that girl, but frankly I don’t think I’d want to be stuck on an elevator with her. She was so dramatic it exhausts me to think about it. She was also very, very damaged and love-starved and therefore made a lot of really bad choices. Looking back at myself makes me cringe.

But we all have a past, don’t we? Some of us have more regrets than others. On the other hand, some people actually wish they were their young selves again. These people fascinate me. It must be sad to think that it’s all been downhill from there, that in the intervening years no progress has been made and no lessons have been learned. It must take quite a bit of effort to not move forward, even an inch, after years of living.

The other day I was thinking about the boy I went to school with who listed the KKK as one of his clubs in my junior high school yearbook. I didn’t know him well. I can’t imagine we moved in the same circles. Not even a little bit. But I wonder about the man he became.

Does that man look back at that yearbook entry with pride or with shame? What has he done with his life? Does he have kids? Have they seen that yearbook? My mother’s yearbook entry simply says, “A sweet and simple lass was she.” I suspect that’s a much easier legacy to live up to. It certainly doesn’t require justification or explanation.

I thought about trying to track that guy down, but to be honest, I’m afraid of what I might find. It would be wonderful if he came to his senses and dedicated his life to some form of public service, but I’m afraid that, with such a rotten core, the resulting apple might not be particularly healthy. Hate warps you. Then again, people can change. Who knows.

But then, having come from an educational system that allowed someone to list the KKK as one of their clubs in the yearbook means that none of us, from that rural southern town, had the best start. I think many of us turned out well in spite of, not because of, that twisted beginning. Your role models help to set your stage, but only you can star in the play that is your life.

I am who I am partly because the teenage me was who she was. But I’d like to think I’m so much more than that now. I’ve had life experiences. I’ve grown. I’ve evolved. She was just a part of the overall process. Because of that, I’m grateful for her. But I wouldn’t want to be her. I just wish I still had her pert little behind.

My Yearbook photo
Yup. That was me. Bless that photographer for covering up all the acne and despair.

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The Past Isn’t Going Anywhere

I heard that somewhere recently and it really struck a chord in me. I know so many people who dwell in the past. They’re bitter about unresolved issues with people, or they’re longing for better times, or they are using the past as a convenient excuse not to move forward, or they are just exercising a lifelong habit of facing backwards. It makes me sad.

All that time we spend gazing at bygone experiences is really wasted energy for the most part, because that stuff does not require any care or feeding. It will always be there. It doesn’t need your nurturing or attention. On the other hand, what is happening right here and now, with the people who are standing right in front of you, most certainly does need your focus.

I’m not talking about reminiscing. It’s nice to recall happy memories every now and again. I’m talking about obsessing. I’m talking about being so stuck in your ancient history that you cannot progress. People who make that mistake rarely look up to see those around them. They don’t stop and smell the roses because they don’t even realize that any are in their midst. They are missing the everyday gifts that are given to all of us: the feeling of wind in your hair and sun on your face. Potential friends. Opportunities. Growth.

Am I some sort of expert at facing forward? Hardly. I have my issues. But at least I’m making an effort. I hope you are, too.

Take a moment to breathe in the now, and be grateful for it.

LiveNow

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What to Do When You Can’t March

I used to lament being born in the early 60’s. I was too young to participate in the “really good” protests. Be careful what you wish for. Here we are again.

Unfortunately, I have a really strange work schedule, so most marches march right on past me. I would have loved to participate in the women’s march on Washington, for example. Or the protest against the immigration ban, or the march for science, or even the produce your dang tax returns one. But nooo… I get to sit in my lonely little work tower, wishing I could lend my voice to the ever-increasing cacophony.

Other people can’t march for other reasons. Health issues. Location. Having small children at home. Time constraints. For everyone that does march, there are probably 5 who would like to, but can’t. It can feel really frustrating.

But there are still things that you can do. I think the most important thing you can do is speak up. Let people know how you feel. When it’s perceived that the majority feel a certain way, it becomes the norm. So you don’t have to march to be a part of the strengthening tide of protest. You just need to let others know you’re with them. I highly recommend blogging. But even just posting something on your Facebook page, or bringing issues up with friends and family, can be effective. If you get even one person to stop and think, “Hmmm. Maybe the earth isn’t flat after all!” then you’ve done something. You’ve become part of progress.

It is also important to put your money where your mouth is if you can. Support Planned Parenthood. Support public radio. Support the ACLU. Also, boycott companies that you feel are not on the right side of history for whatever reason, such as United Airlines, Ivanka Trump, Wells Fargo, Monsanto and Walmart. Money talks.

In addition, it’s extremely important to let your congressmen know how you feel on various issues. Call them. E-mail them. Write them. Pester them. Sign legitimate petitions. Vote. It’s the people who didn’t bother to vote who got us in this protest-worthy situation in the first place.

I also wear my heart on my sleeve in the form of bumper stickers on my car. I think this is a lot more effective than most people realize. I see people taking pictures of my bumper all the time. And I also sport a yard sign, as you can see, below.

Ask yourself this: do most of the people who know you know exactly where you stand? Then you’re doing well! Keep it up! #resist

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