I keep coming back to stuff

When I started this blog I spoke a lot about my journey to rid myself of my excess of stuff so I could “get somewhere.”

I had sold my successful business that I’d opened and run for nearly 18 years with no idea what I was going to do next. I only knew that whatever was next for me – I couldn’t do it with all this stuff! I couldn’t get where I wanted to be and drag all this stuff with me.

Flash forward a bunch of years. I got rid of a lot of my possessions, created a career whereby I help others do the same. Took a longed for road trip of just over 15,000 miles (around the US – by myself!) and came home from that road trip ready to pack up my home and move on from the life I’d been living. I still didn’t know what I was moving towards, I just knew that I was ready.

Then I met a high school sweetheart and fell in love.

I packed up my house alright, I left behind the life I’d been living and I moved my (now much fewer) possessions into his home. Just about 20 minutes from where I’d owned my business all those years.

I began to work on my writing, (it’s what I do, it’s who I am, and I never quite stop doing it,) with a little Personal Organizing and decluttering on the side.

That’s when I started getting into Life Coaching.

I had become living proof that you can get where, and do what, you want in life. You are never stuck. It’s just a matter of finding your way from where you are.

Flash forward another couple of years, (Holy moly how time flies!)

I’m not at all unhappy with my life at the moment.

I life coach, and I help people declutter to find their way to the life they want. I write and have found my way to my first big book project. I’ve made new connections and I enjoy the space where I reside.

My sweetie isn’t so much into decluttering.

He likes to buy stuff. He likes to keep stuff.

And while I’m not unhappy with the life we share here, I want more.

Life is short – yes?

And I keep coming back to stuff.

I think there’s too much stuff in this house.

I feel like it is holding he and I back from the life we both say we want.

Decluttering still seems all the rage. There are always books coming out about the joys of it or the how to of it. I’m reading yet another new and hot one now.

(Someday I hope I’ll write one.)

But it’s making me itch.

It’s making me itch to get rid of the old china hutch in the spare room (He doesn’t love it but it belonged to his mother.) It’s making me itch to get rid of the twenty cookbooks I kept when I first downsized from 80 or so that I used to own. It’s making me want to get rid of the 15 tiny decorative dishes, trays, and bowls both he and I seem to adore. Sure they are pretty and all but they are a pain to keep dusted and I don’t think they are adding much to my life. He, of course, doesn’t agree. He thinks they are tiny, barely take up any room, aren’t unpleasant, aren’t in the way and that there is no reason to get rid of them.

I keep coming back to stuff.

I have too much stuff.

I am surrounded by too much stuff.

Too much stuff gets in the way of moving forward.

I damn sure knew what I didn’t want. How about you?

I was 46.

And one night, I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep.

I was wondering how best to motivate my employees to do their jobs more conscientiously. Through the years it seemed to me that the quality of the work I got from them had declined. They just didn’t care. Truth is, I had known for a few years that this was the case. And I also knew, if I looked deep into myself, that the problem was me. They were only reflecting my leadership, or lack thereof. So the real question was how to make myself care more.

I used to care. I cared a lot for a long time.

Good coffee is such a thing of beauty and I’m such a fan of quality consumables, when I ‘found’ it, I sucked it up. The ambiance of the cafés, the vibrant feel of caffeine fueled camaraderie, the level of sophistication to the art and science of it all. How exquisite!

I spent my 29th birthday writing a business plan. Some of my friends crowed about “Saturn Returns.” Seven months later I opened Klekolo World Coffee. Within a year it was bordering on success. At 5 years it threatened to collapse under it’s own popularity, but we persevered. Always it created community. People who frequented the place called it their own.

I loved the coffeehouse for a very long time. It was special and magical and filled with artists and creative folk. Many of whom I admire to this day.

I couldn’t say anything was missing. Life, work, friends, a nice house, a rocking café, the good life. But nothing was jazzing me up like all this used to. And this was it, right? Here I was, deep in the life I’d built.

I began to let the place run itself. I no longer enjoyed smiling at people every day while I made their lattes. Better to let the perky young folks do it. They were all well trained. I tried to empower them to do what was right. Mostly the product didn’t suffer, just the cleanliness, the atmosphere. The granting of autonomy made employees feel like they could treat people however it suited them and when they learned they couldn’t, that they had to respect every single person who came through the door, they didn’t like their jobs as much. And I tried to care, and I put out fires and I engaged in retraining and I went to coffee conventions. And the lease came up for renewal again – 15 years!

So I signed up for another five. What other options were there?

Wherever my 30s had gone it seemed my 40s were going there too.

On this night I speak of, age 46, lying in bed, I thought of many things.

Nothing in my life was what I really wanted. That was obvious. The coffeehouse was struggling, the employees didn’t care. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, because I didn’t know how to fix me. I tried one thing after another to turn it all back around. It wasn’t quite in danger of sinking but the economy wasn’t helping any. I didn’t know what to do.

I was laying there, not sleeping, wondering what to try next. And a brand new thought occurred to me. It was huge.

“If I find myself still here in CT, still running a coffeehouse I don’t love, when I turn 50, whose fault will that be?”

Me. Mine.

I am the only one responsible for my own life.

I didn’t have any solution but I knew now what was untenable.

I looked at my surroundings with new eyes.

I began to let things go.

It took most of two years to reduce my belongings by 75%. It was a learning process. With every layer I peeled away and freed from my hold, I gained more power and insight into what did and did not matter to me.

Along the way it became clear to me that the coffeehouse had to go. It was not moving me forward, nor was it part of my future.

I’m not the best at making big life plans. I didn’t plan to pass college by, I didn’t plan to run off and join the circus, I didn’t plan to return home and start a community, and I didn’t plan what would happen when I no longer owned a coffeehouse. That didn’t matter so much as freeing up space and energy for something new.

My friends shook their collective heads.

“What are you gonna DO?”

“I dunno.”

“Do you have enough savings till you figure it out?

“No.”

Some people think you need to know what you want before you can go for it. I speak from experience. Sometimes, it is enough to start with knowing what you don’t want.

Protected: I damn sure knew what I didn’t want.

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I used to make lists of the things I’d keep

I used to make lists of the things I’d keep, long before I started getting rid of things.

In an effort to learn what mattered to me I’d stare out the window, look at nothing in my spaces, and think – what’s here – and what would come with me if I could grab 100 things?

I’d look around my room, my office, the living room and kitchen, but only in my mind’s eye.

What do I see – what’s in that room that is important enough that it makes up a feature of my memory of that room?

 

Now I live at My Love’s house.

And a couple years ago I got rid of most of my stuff. (I did not consult the lists as I went through things.)

I suspect I kept most of the things that ever got on a list.

And now that stuff is here, integrated with his treasures and tchotchkes, and some little of it is in boxes in storage. The stuff that’s here is important when I notice it – my stuff anyway. I can’t speak to the importance of his Turkish Tea Set. But I cannot easily look through the rooms in my mind’s eye.

 

My crystal ball is on a small shelf next to a nondescript window in the bedroom, while it sat most of its life on the center of my headboard(s). Last week as Voodoo sat on the window perch Scott said “She looks like she’s looking into the crystal ball.” And I hadn’t SEEN the crystal ball in months. Never notice it. Would it have made a mind’s-eye list of stuff in the bedroom if I made that list today?

So is it still important?

Still too much stuff.

I haven’t written here for ages (but that’s pretty much okay, since no one is reading it.)

I’ve spent the winter getting rid of more things here and there and working as a Personal Organizer helping others get rid of things that do not matter. I also worked on painting my house. I’ve now gotten all the rooms painted except my own bedroom.

Here I find myself writing when what I really ought to be doing is going through more things to get rid of.

So this was just me checking in.

My goal for the day – one box of things for consignment and one box for Goodwill…

What Not To Wear

What’s in your closet? Do you even know?

I’m trying to get a handle on the process I went through – after the fact.

Having determined that I was weighed down by entirely too much of everything I set about to remedy this. I took the first step with books. At around the same time I took steps in the clothing department – an area I believe most of us Americans (especially women) experience extreme excess.

I decided that the best way to get a handle on what clothes I owned vs. what clothes I wear was to stop doing laundry. Seriously.

The goal was to wear everything in my closet and drawers. Obviously when one stops doing laundry the favorite clothes are gone in 10 days or two weeks. Then we move into the second level of clothes one likes. After 5 weeks or so it begins to get a little desperate (and I must point out that there IS a need to do a little load here and there of essentials – read: bras and towels in my case.) After a couple more days (or weeks) one gets down to only the clothes one wouldn’t be caught dead actually wearing. Best just to let those go – face it, you’re REALLY not going to wear any of it. That was kind of easy – this stuff was garbage.

It’s hard for me to find clothes I actually like, ergo it’s hard for me to get rid of clothes once I own them. After the no-laundry experiment, once I’d washed everything and put it all back in an impressively organized manner, I looked at it all again. There’s some stuff I might be able to do without. So I took some things and I removed them – at least temporarily; put them in a big plastic crate and hid them away. I figured that if I don’t go looking for them, don’t miss them, then I don’t REALLY need them. It was late winter, so I focused on spring and summer clothes. I filled a crate and stashed it in the back of my closet.

There was a time or two when I wanted a particular shirt or pair of pants, couldn’t find them, and went into the crate. There they were, so they went back into rotation. While I might paw through the crate looking for a particular something, I made great efforts to pay no attention to what else was in there.

Six months later I looked in the crate, this time to SEE what was there. Any of those spring and summer clothes I’d not needed or gone hunting for should be considered unnecessary. But I was realistic too. If there was something in there that I’d buy right this minute if I saw it on a rack at the consignment store, I let that slip back into the closet. Everything else went to the consignment store if they’d take it and to Goodwill if they didn’t.

I refilled the crate with things I might not miss and that currently sits in the back of my closet again. The whole thing is a process – anyone who tells you it can be done in a weekend or a month is full of it.

After the great no-laundry experiment and after ditching at least 2 plastic bags full of clothes, in February this is what was in my closet –

3 scarves

2 fringe jackets (when was the last time I even wanted to wear these?)

17 skirts

28 button down shirts

1 long sleeve shirt

2 turtlenecks

2 cat suits

19 sleeveless shirts on hangers

2 winter coats

2 fall/spring coats

4 costume dresses

4 dressy dresses – mid-length

5 dressy jackets

13 casual dresses (7 long, 6 short)

2 robes

36 pairs of pants – hanging

9 pairs of pants – folded

11 bath sized towels

39 tank tops – folded

7 sleeping shorts

13 sleeping shirts

14 leggings

12 tights

32 pairs of socks

42 pair of underwear

17 bras

2 lounge pants

3 swimsuits

11 tee shirts – historical personal value – not for wearing

That’s still an awful lot of clothes. Perhaps you can see how easy it was for me to go something like 10 weeks without doing laundry. Aren’t I lucky to be American? I do not say this facetiously. How many women in this world get by on 2 ratty bras and 10 old pair of underwear? Or less? How many women in the world own 2 or 3 dresses only?

I’ve heard of women who have in their closets something like – 3 skirts, 2 dresses, 4 or 5 pair of pants, 8 shirts and 3 jackets. And they live fine with this! They don’t feel a lack of clothes. They mix and match and appear well dressed! I’m not there yet. I still have too many clothes – many more clothes than I ought to need.

Every week I try to whittle it down somewhat, somehow. The process is not glamorous.

When I take off my underwear at the end of the day – if it’s a pair that was loose, or tight, or uncomfortable in any way – I throw them in the trash – not the laundry basket. Same with bras. I’m trying now with the theory – Do Not Keep Anything That Isn’t Top Quality.

I am certain I have not gotten rid of nearly enough clothing yet, still, but when it’s so hard to find what I like it is truly hard to let it go.

I’m gonna do a quick experiment – I’m gonna copy off that list above (from 8 months ago) and compare it to what’s in my closets and drawers right now… (Wish me luck.)

Same – 3 scarves

Gone – 2 fringe jackets

13 skirts – 17 skirts

25 now – 28 button down shirts

Same – 1 long sleeve shirt

Gone – 2 turtlenecks

Gone – 2 cat suits

Same (I wear them all – I made sure of it!) – 19 sleeveless shirts on hangers

Same – 2 winter coats

Same – 2 fall/spring coats

Same – 4 costume dresses

Same – 4 dressy dresses – mid-length

2 now – 5 dressy jackets

16 now (crap! I went shopping!) – 13 casual dresses (7 long, 6 short)

Same – 2 robes

29 now (this includes some inadvertent shopping.) – 36 pairs of pants – hanging

7 now – 9 pairs of pants – folded

Same – 11 bath sized towels

Same (there was some shopping and change-out. I love tank tops.) – 39 tank tops – folded

Same – 7 sleeping shorts

8 now – 13 sleeping shirts

Same – 14 leggings

9 now – 12 tights

34 now??? – 32 pairs of socks

35 now  – 42 pair of underwear

Same (there has been some change-out, call it upgrading.) – 17 bras

Same – 2 lounge pants

2 now – 3 swimsuits

Same – 11 tee shirts – historical personal value – not for wearing

Tally = Minus 40 things, plus 5.

I suppose that’s better than plus 10 or 20 over 8 months time – right?

Obviously I could do more here, though I have made a good system for rotation and making sure I wear everything I own – for if I won’t/don’t wear it, what’s the point of keeping it? The list would have more impressive cutbacks if I’d counted before the great no-laundry experiment but I didn’t and so it goes.

Now – I ask again – do you really know what’s in your closet?

I dare you to make a list…

Books part 1

I love books.

I (used to?) collect books.

I knew I had a lot of books. I knew the published diary collection was about 700-800 books and that took up six over-packed shelves in the living room plus an extra box (an early 17 volume edition of Pepys) upstairs.

There was a shelf full of cookbooks on the porch, a shelf on the stairway landing with Atlases, nature books, tree books, coffee table books, destination guides, and a smattering of art books. A shelf at the top of the stairs had some duplicate diaries, fictional diaries (not quite worthy of being in the diary collection but they were diaries nonetheless and had to be kept) and books also by diarists (but not diaries) and books about diarists (mostly with a focus on some other aspect of their lives) as well as collections of letters (often by diarists.) (Yes, I have a diary fetish.) The 3 shelves in my office held random overflow books, some waiting to be processed officially into the diary collection, some about coffee and business, my map collection and a gazillion magazines. One of these shelves was mostly CDs. A bulging shelf in my bedroom was for the erotica collection, the kama sutra collection, metaphysical, spiritual and new age-y self help books (think Alan Watts, Joseph Campbell, gems and minerals, Goddess Histories of the World), Hippie books, rock-n-roll and 60s books, as well as rare books, signed books (Abbie Hoffman, Ken Kesey, Alan Ginsberg!), and generally odd books (Wisconsin Death Trip anyone? Go ahead – look it up – I have a first edition.) A thinner tall shelf in my bedroom housed books on writing, wealth, investing and house flipping. My bedroom has a balcony on the sun porch – I had a bookshelf there too which contained a vintage collection of travel books (many of them about early African travelers like Beryl Markham and Osa Johnson) as well as a large collection of contemporary travel lit (Who can resist books with titles like The Sex Lives of Cannibals or No Touch Monkey?) and other various non-fiction. This was also the shelf for some much-loved and oft-looked-at books, and all my fiction books that I hoped to read someday.

Lastly, in the shelf category, was two milk crates on the floor near my bedside table. This was for books I hoped to read soon.

An extra large box of books in my closets was filled with unpublished diaries.

There were 10 boxes of books in my office. I just didn’t have the room for any more shelves! One tall pile of boxes – floor to ceiling. This was overflow – fiction, non-fiction, travel, and read-and-loved books.

Used to be I never left a book sale without at least 4 or 5 books – and that would have been a slow day. Sometime over the past 5 years I managed to wean myself from buying books – unless I really Really REALLY wanted it. At first that meant that I came home from book sales with only 1 or 2 books but even that wasn’t working. Eventually I stopped myself from going to book sales. (Amazingly, my life is not lesser for the lack of book sales – I might not have believed that 10 years ago.)

Sometime around November 2010 I decided I had to get serious about getting rid of stuff and an obvious place to start would be the books. I determined I had to whittle it down by the equivalent of 10 boxes, so at least what I had would be visible on shelves.

I think it took me about 3 weeks to get 10 boxes and bring them to the used book store to return for cash – cash this time – not credit.

When you love books, it’s hard to part with favorites, or books yet unknown, forever calling “read me” “read me.” I understand this well.

But here’s the thing – I had too much stuff!

Really way WAY too much stuff – and really? What were these books adding to my life? What was I gaining? I knew that if I wanted to move forward with my life I would have to jettison some of the extraneous crap – there’s no other way. And this whole feeling of the need to get rid of stuff (a feeling present and growing for many years) was foaming forth from a general malaise about my life. It wasn’t right, things would have to change. I’d been building up to this need for major change.

So I’m sorry Paul Theroux for removing 6 of the 8 books I haven’t read yet. (I actually haven’t read any of his books yet, always meant to.) I’m sorry Ellen Gilchrist that I’m ditching 3 or 4 of your short story collections. I did love the one I read way back when. I love you Joseph Campbell but this one book that I read right after my mom died makes me sad to see. But I promise you – it helped me so very much at the time. I’m sorry all you contributors to erotica collections but I’m not feeling so sexy at the moment and I’m sure I won’t miss you if half of you just go away. I’m sorry you’re leaving Oscar Hijuelos and Saul Bellow and Gabriel Garcia Marquez but if I feel the need to read more of your books (and I hope someday I’ll feel that need) I think I’ll be able to find you easily enough. I’m sorry Katherine Mansfield but you have to go too. I never saw your brilliance like everyone assured me was there. Goodbye Midnight Express, read as a horror story and cautionary tale so many times in my early teen years that you’re falling apart. I don’t need you to prove anything. We all know I managed to avoid Turkish prison. Goodbye Stephen King, I’m sure you’ll be easy to find should I need you again. I don’t think you’re going to help me move forward. I’ll keep this early paperback version of The Stand though, and this copy of On Writing. For now…

Throughout the winter I challenged myself to get a book or two a day off the shelves. At least one. One book. I can lose one book.

That’s not always as easy as it sounds – but it’s worth it. So worth it.