Sunday, May 23, 2010

Demi and Bruce? Not Exactly...

There's a bad chemistry experiment going on at my house. It's been bubbling over the Bunsen burner for years now.

Not many people know this, as it is not the shiniest aspect of my life, so it rarely comes up over dinner conversation: the three people who live in my house are my daughter, myself and my former husband. (Yikes!)

In an attempt to keep from inundating you with more information than you want or need, I'll proceed on a 'need to know' basis. Give or take a little.

One of the greatest hindrances to my progress in purging is this living dynamic. Not that I am blaming my ass-dragging tendencies on other people, I am not. Hi, my name is Barbie and I am responsible for the details of my living situation.

But living with these two people and all their personal belongs, mingling with my own, is complicated. For most of the stuff, it would just not be as easy at throwing things in a thrift store box. (The movie It's Complicated is playing on my DVD right now. Weird, huh?)

There are a couple of prickly levels coming into play here. My divorce was long ago but because we had a unique rental situation that cost us so little, neither of us could afford to walk away from it. We get along well enough, outside of marriage, to pull this off on most days. It doesn't always feel like the best situation (the chemistry experiment) but I appreciate that we don't hate each other. We live at opposite ends of the house. We are generally aware of and respect the private life of the other. It works for us, for the moment.

The one part of the end of a marriage that we've never experienced through our grown-up version of divorce is going through and separating all of our belongings: his, mine and ours.

So when, at the end of my clutter rope, I started sorting through household paraphernalia, I was stymied when it came down to so-called community property. Our divorce decree had laid things out in bare bones manner but the minutia & specifics were left up to us.

My former husband keeps things. He very happily never throws anything away. Even throughout our marriage, I had to sneak things into the garbage or off to Goodwill. Okay, not eggs shells and coffee grounds, but 'stuff.' Orphaned socks, mostly empty bottles of expired condiments, a deck of 51 playing cards, you know the stuff.

Fortunately for me, he is also the messy type so he has never, ever come back to me looking for anything that I knew I'd thrown out. Everything he owns is in piles on one surface or another, so he can never be sure if anything is ever truly missing. His messy ways kept my covert decluttering secret for years but this was not going to fly anymore, what with my determination to rid myself of 1/3 of my things. My decluttering was (hopefully) going to be a very obvious, blatant excavation.

I piddled at cleaning and clearing for a few weeks but eventually had to admit that I needed to get him on board with my goal, at least to some degree. There was no way to do this otherwise.

I dreaded the thought. I could hear his objections. He would never admit it but he does not like to get rid of things: "I might need this someday." "But it still works, I just need to fix the cord." "Someday I'm going to take up fly fishing."

So a few mornings ago, when I looked at him, held my breath and said, "I think we should have a yard sale," I was braced for the blow of his rationalizations.

He looked back at me for second, then said, "But all we have is junk."

I almost cried; I was so excited. I would have done a cart wheel but there was not enough room. "Exactly, junk," I agreed. "So let's put it up for sale and it can all become someone else's junk!" I said, nodding my head furiously, trying to will his agreement. I continued quickly before his coffee kicked in and he started thinking clearly. Or what for him is clear.

"Ciara (our daughter) is trying to earn money for her missions training trip to Panama in July. We could go through everything, have it all packed up in boxes and the next shiny weekend, we'll be ready. We'll throw everything in the front yard, put up a dozen signs, tell everyone we know and maybe she could earn money for her trip."

I almost lost him on that last point. Giving Ciara all the proceeds wasn't balancing out, in his thinking. I believe he was already calculating what he could do with his share. So I sputtered a bit, back peddled and said that we'd figure all that out later; that the most important thing is that we'd be getting rid of all the junk. Yea, junk. I never thought I'd ever be so happy to hear someone call all my stuff junk! JUNK RULES!

With that single, quick conversation, my motivation shot off the chart. It clicked immediately. I wanted to start cleaning right then but I needed to get ready for work. My fingers were jittery and itching to go. This is like win to the power of 10.
  • Ciara is trying to raise money for her trip.
  • I NEED to get rid of copious amounts of stuff.
  • Not so many trips to the thrift store station.
  • My former husband will get some pocket change to buy some much needed car part.
  • I've learned over the years that it is much easier for me to part with things if I can think of them as going to a good cause. And the closer the cause is to my heart, the more things go. Yippee!!
The situation I saw as most likely deadlocked was now fluid. Jet fuel fluid. And we're ready for lift off.

The results: After having Friday and Saturday off (May 21 & 22), I've almost finished one entire room (a storage/guest room) and a few scattered corners and drawers in other rooms. It is so exhilarating and self-perpetuating. I want to stay up tonight and do some more, but I need rest. I'm stoked and spent at the exact same time. I'll be sleeping with a smile on my smudged face.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Barbie: Treasure Hunter Wannabe

I've been futzing around with this goal. Cherry picking the most overt and obvious trash.
I know better.
I know that one of the keys to declutter is to Find the Treasures. This is not original with me. From one of many websites or from the pages of some book on cleaning, clearing, organizing I read this tip: Find the treasures.

When I open a junk drawer or storage closet, my eyes automatically gravitate toward the things of little or no value (the broken, the faded, the rusty), looking for the worst of the collection before me. The things that are 'wrong' with this picture. (Stupid Highlights magazine strikes again.)

I should be doing the opposite, focusing on the treasures. But so far, I'm not.

I'll walk by a bookshelf crammed full of books and spot five or ten that I know I'll never read or ever want to dust again. And because I don't have time to devote full attention to this weary shelf, I'll snag the worst of the worst and pack them into a bag or box.
This will happen again with the linen closet. While putting away a load of clean laundry, stacking sweet-smelling, perfectly folded towels, my eyes will catch sight of the two or three most unsightly and raggedy towels (that someone gave me for my wedding shower back in 1986). I'll grab them, with Junk Food type satisfaction and throw them into a bag destined for the nearest thrift store. "Yea" for me, right? Hardly.
I've been doing this all backward. And in the most half assed manner. Because of the nature of the past month, I keep dabbling in this purging thing. I talk about it; I think about it; I plan for it. But it really hasn't grabbed hold of me yet.
I heard on a talking book recently, Wayne Dyer say that (and I paraphrase), Motivation is when you get hold of an idea, you see it through to the end, you are dedicated to its completion and quality. Inspiration is when an idea gets hold of you. When it pulls you in a direction that you were meant to follow. Your spirit is led. Spirit. InSPIRation.
When I listened to these words on the downloadable book, that I totally downloaded to my PC and then a shiny device, all by myself (after four tries), I knew I'd just heard something very important. Profound. Pivotal. Motivation. Inspiration. Not that motivation is less than inspiration somehow, but that there is a difference between the two. Still important and wise.

The problem is that where this decluttering project is concerned I am neither truly motivated or inspired. I have not grabbed a hold of this project and it certainly has yet to grab hold of me. I keep creating these token bags of things for the Goodwill. They are not even the tip of the tip of the tip of the ice berg lettuce.

Am I afraid to really start? To roll up my sleeves and commit? In the same book, but much later Wayne Dyer says new things can't come into your life until the old, stagnant stuff gets moved out. ('New things' as in clarity and inner peace, not new things as in a new red washer and dryer set.)

Do the new things frighten me? Clarity and inner peace can be scary ass prospects when you've clung to dysfunction and imbalance for as far back as you can remember.

I've skimmed the surface of many areas of my home. I have yet to do any one room, closet, corner, set of drawers, anywhere to completion. I think my first post about being resolved to clear out my space was about a month ago and so far there is not one place in my house that I can stand back and say with a big truffle eating grin "This (*deep breath*) is all done."
What am I hanging onto here? And why would I do such a thing?
Midge, my faithful and true, supportive and decluttering commenter is grabbing hold of this idea better than I am. I need to read her blog.
If you remember nothing else from this post, remember these three words:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hot Chicks in a Convertible

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with clearing clutter from my life, unless you count a bad mood getting blown away with the wind in a convertible.

Today, I got to work a few minutes late. Scrambling in my usual style, dropping my three bags onto the floor next to my chair in my cubicle. Things were quiet. Common state for IT department in the middle of the day. Everyone was in. I only have slivers of time most days when I'm there with everyone else. Compared to the bulk of my time in IT when I'm alone, these slivers are like little IT parties for me. Checking in to see what the latest issues are. Official and unofficial. Finding out how so and so's aunt's cousin's bar mitzvah went the night before. I really love my department. I think we all get along well and I enjoy each one of my Helpdesk co-workers. I like this time before everyone else heads home for the day.

But today, Midge one of my co-workers, came up to me almost as soon as I sat down, and said, "Let's go have coffee." I just got to work. We've never gone for coffee before. My heart started to race.

My first thought is, "She's about to tell me I'm doing something wrong in my job." That we've lost all of our archived data because I clicked here instead of here. That somehow I'd caused every single patron registration to disappear from the system.

I tried to remain calm as we walked away from the comfort zone of my department, where at least there would be witnesses if need be, and down a long, empty hall.

I didn't know if she meant 'Let's go for actual coffee.' Or if 'coffee' was a euphemism for pink slip, or what. I was starting to sweat for the sake of my job. For my bills that love to be paid in full and on time.

Then I had another thought, "Oh no, maybe she's experienced some personal crisis and needed someone to talk to." I didn't want to lose my job, but I also didn't want my close friend having personal trauma either. I wanted everything to be fine on ALL fronts.

Then we headed toward the main entrance of the building, when it dawned on me. Sunday she bought a new car! I walked out the front door to see, not her new (previously owned) car but the fancy, schmancy loaner they gave her until her new car is ready.

A 2006 Mercedes convertible.
Something like this picture. But not even as good because it doesn't have the Two Hot IT Chicks in the front seat. We zipped right out of that stuffy, serious library admin building parking lot. Two hot chicks in a convertible. "See ya!"
It was a blast. I stuck my hands up in the air like I was riding a roller coaster on Cooney Island. (Okay I've never been to Cooney Island but still.) The wind flew through my hair. Well actually, there was not a whiff of breeze unless you're driving down 112th at 80 miles an hour. Kidding. I wasn't studying the speedometer. I was loving the experience and left any abiding or breaking of traffic laws to the driver.
We pulled up to the local coffee spot and got a couple of drinks. Two hot chicks at the drive up window. We zipped right back to work and settled into our cubicles.
Two hot IT chicks in their library cubicles.
Except for throwing a foot ball in the back room of a branch that will remain nameless, possibly the best work break I've ever taken. Heck, maybe it's a tie.
Thanks, Girlfriend! You made my day.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Relationship Remnant

The Panasonic receiver.

Music players have come a long way in my lifetime.

The earliest 'stereo' I can remember is a record player. A small, suitcase-looking unit with a handy plastic handle. I think it was painted blue and white and made of some type of press board. I'm not sure if it was a really high grade of card board or a really low quality wood product. Within the sturdy case was a turn table and it's necessary components (arm, needle, that silvery peg that holds the record in place and a volume knob). The speakers were built into the sides of the faux-something case. This was the height of music machines at the time. Nothing like listening to the Beach Boys Little Deuce Coupe in mono. (Considering the nature of this blog, it probably won't surprise you to know I still have that album.)

Then we upgraded to a unit that was still quite portable but more cumbersome. Kind of a table top machine, black with speakers that hung off the sides of the turn table or (and here was the sales pitch clincher for my dad) detached from the body of the record player and could be placed a couple of feet away for that true 'immediate vicinity' sound that everyone longed for. (Dolby had nothing on us.) Another amazing feature of this newfangled music device was that you could load three or four albums on the tall, silver peg in the middle and secure them with some type of arm apparatus. They hung suspended above the album playing, then dropped down one at a time after the end of the proceeding record. It was a marvel of modern technology. I'm still not sure how they did that.

My grandparents had the granddaddy of stereos. This was a piece of furniture. Wood, for the most part. A large rectangular cabinet with two sliding doors on the top surface. The internal layout varied from one brand to the next but in my experience, if you slid the two doors to one side looking down upon it you could see the turn table, a radio receiver dial and if you have the deluxe Cadillac style an eight-track tape player. When you slide the doors to the other side, you find storage space for as many Lawrence Welk and off-name polka albums as you could possibly imagine. Well, okay probably twenty or so. But too much of a good thing and all that. Again the speakers were built into the unit but now we're talking about "Ah-one, and ah-two and ah" in STEREO-baby! If you were the recycling type and you stumbled upon one of these music monstrosities today, you could probably gut it and use it as a platform coffin. (You know, like platform shoes?)

These all-in-one units were kind of high end in my elite circle. Mostly people I knew owned a record player but had a little transistor radio somewhere else in the house. (For the "rest of the story.") Eight track players were mostly in your vehicle if you were lucky enough to have one. (Tape player, not vehicle.)

It was on my fourteenth birthday that experienced a stereo with four speakers: one speaker hanging in the four corners of a room. I was told to listen to how cool that was. I think Bachman-Turner Overdrive was taking care of business. The other three people in the room seemed quite impressed with the quad aspect of this set up. I personally didn't notice much difference.

Then it became popular to buy your stereo components individually. A receiver, a turn table, a tape player, speakers and possibly even an amplifier and an equalizer. Unlike the four-way stereo sound at Rick's house, this impressed me. Compared to our family record player with the speakers hinged to the side, this was very cool and very grown up and quite rebellious. It was true music appreciation.

All through high school and just after, I longed for this type of stereo system. I wanted to be an all-grown-up music listener. But even if I had gone into my local stereo store, I would not have had a clue what to ask first. To those slick sales people, I would have looked like the sick and weak gazelle left behind by my herd, and at the mercy of some Wild Kingdom photographer who would helicopter in a hungry alligator from Sea World to tear the flesh from my bones so he could get it all on film. Man-enforced Law of the Jungle money shot.

I went off to college after the cliche taking of 'one year off.' That first year in the dorms, I saw many examples of the cool-kid stereo set ups. Guys were especially prone to this music configuration. Big Bose speakers in all corners, the bigger the better as size matters in such cases. Everything is a competition with this gender. There's always a yard stick laying around.

I fell in love in college. It was a temporary condition but in the end I was granted custody of the cool stereo system. I was given two medium sized Bose speakers, a turn table and a Panasonic receiver. It was a relatively amicable end; Kevin gave me his stereo before he left me to move to Alaska. He was lightening his load of personal possessions. (Wow, do you feel that deja vu swirling around me right now?)

That was 26 years ago. The speakers were the first to go. I kept them for quite a few years but the spongy foam material behind which hid the tweeters and woofers was pretty quick to disintegrate. The speakers which still sounded fine but looked like hell, headed for a thrift store.

A cassette tape deck that I had added to the stereo ensemble also didn't last long. It was bottom of the line quality and it seems you get what you pay for where home electronics are concerned.

Left were the turn table and the receiver. The turn tables sits today on a large stack of albums on the bottom shelf of my leviathan of an entertainment center. It's job is safe, as far as I know. The receiver has been out in storage; I haven't used it in years. Probably twelve or fifteen. It works fine. Or it did do, the last time it was plugged in and put to the test. The thread I've kept hanging onto with this inanimate object is the person from which it came. Kevin.

I have great affection for this past relationship. That brief time in my life. Plus I have some regrets which make it very difficult to come to peace in reflection. I've hung onto this item for years because Kevin gave it to me. I have not been able to let this go. As I've thought about this specific instance of worldly possession clinging, it occurs to me that I've kept it out of guilt. Because Kevin gave me his heart and I failed to take good care of it, I feel some how I can make up for it by taking care of his stereo. Crazy thinking when you drag it out of the dark corner of my mind and look at it in the sunlight.

I took the receiver to the Salvation Army this week. Someone with a good eye for such things will be shopping there soon and be able to make use of it. Not that it stands up against today's technology but as a piece of good quality nostalgia. Or as the mother of all paper weights.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Elephant in the Blog

Okay, so a post or two ago I mentioned that I was ‘away’ and hadn’t been able to put any energy into my mission, my personal quest of simplifying and clearing out my life.
I genuinely thought the distraction would fill my time for a few days but that I would be right back to purge and release ‘no longer useful’ items. Not exactly.

Aaron, the man with whom I’ve spent almost all of my free for a good long time now, the most amazing man I've ever known, my love, decided to leave. To go for a long, long walk. Across the continent, no less. I will not go into all the details of how I feel about this development emotionally, spiritually. At least not here. But I will speak to the practical impact it’s had upon my life recently.

I haven’t said this specifically here, but it is my hope to get rid of one third of all my stuff. 1/3. Doesn’t this sound significant? Symbolic? Substantial? (My ‘double secret probation’ hope was that I would actually be able to part with half. 50% of everything I own. But I’m afraid to say it aloud.) I would be so impressed with myself if I could pull off a third.

An aside to this 1/3 thing:
I mentioned to my supervisor at work that I was aiming for this lofty goal: one third, she seemed impressed with my ambition. She said she thinks the more things we accumulate, the more unhappy we seem to become.

“Exactly,” I said.

(This was a refreshing reaction as most people just stare, waiting for me to get to some non-existent punch line.)
Then she looked at me and said that the problem she would have if she were attempting such a goal would be the counting.

The counting?” I asked.

“Yes, I’d have to count everything first to make sure I was actually throwing out a third.”

Oh no. OH NO! What has she done? This hadn’t occurred to me. I’m very methodical with such tasks. Very linear and retentive. Of course, counting. I'll have to count! How can I ever know if was really one third or not? This was a devastating development. I should have shoved my fingers into my ears and started humming Sweet Georgia Brown as soon as I could tell where her point was headed. But once she’d said it, and I’d heard it, it could not be unheard. It was out there now.
Just before the onset of the panic attack that was headed straight for me, I consulted with my many personalities and made an executive decision: Ball Park.
I am going to approximate this one third. I will simply be happy, ecstatic even, to be in the same ball park as one third. I might have to ‘round up’ but this is okay.
You think I jest about the counting, but at other times in my life, I would have reveled in the process of counting before hand, to assure myself of the satisfaction of a true one third. Counting how many books I have, how many wine glasses I have. I'd have needed to hire student help to assist with the counting and the inevitable spread sheets.
But no: I'm going to Ball Park! Turns out I can ‘let go’ of more than just some old wind chimes.
Enough aside for now....

One key dimension of Aaron’s Great Adventure was getting rid of almost all of his personal possessions. This turned out to be fascinating. And relevant to my own process. In some ways, watching him throw out things so easily was perplexing, but then at other times I found it inspiring. And others still, nauseating and sad.

He hand-picked a few important items: bass guitar, photographs, some books, Peanuts pillowcase (‘Important’ is relative, it seems), all his music CDs, the Cabin Boy DVD, old Taco Bell sauce packets (not really).

These were all stored securely, awaiting his safe return. Pretty much everything else, however, went. Some he gave to family and loved ones. Appropriately. Some to Goodwill. Some garbage. All furniture, all household items (kitchen, bathroom, bedroom), plants, clothes, electronics. TV, bed, lamps, dishes, clock, towels and more.

It was the most interesting, strange process to be involved in. In his possession, to take with him, he kept just enough to stuff into a good sized back pack. Maybe forty pounds. He went from a large one bedroom apartment with all the essential accoutrement implied, down to a high-end REI backpack. This process took over a week, fitting in a day here or there for going to work.

Because of my emotional investment in the situation and my very strong feelings about his leaving at all, it was INTENSE. I cried some. I marveled often. I wished he would come to my house and return the favor, but there wasn’t time before his departure date. Plus I would not have had anything close to his ability to release and let go. Had the situation been reversed, I would have been groveling, begging with my arms wrapped around his ankles pleading with him to please, please, PLEASE let me keep my purple socks, that are actually two different colors of purple and itch like crazy so I never actually wear them. “I love those socks!” “Those were the socks I wore to drill team camp in Ellensburg when we did the routine to Freak Out.” “I need those socks. Don’t do it.” So it would never, ever would have worked had the situations been reversed.

This is a guess on my part but I’d say, in the end Aaron probably got rid of a solid 90 % of everything he owed. (Making my ‘grandiose’ 1/3 seem pretty paltry. And don’t think we didn’t have a nice little talk about that!) Besides feeling that he was ‘showing off’ his ninja ‘letting go’ abilities, I was in shock. Impressed, awestruck, speechless.

Aside from how I feel about his leaving, I’m hoping to parlay the energy and inspiration I feel from helping him with this process into a snowball effect for my own cause. I hope. We’ll see. He started his walking trip today. Which means I will have more concentrated time. Time that may seem ‘tainted’ to a certain extent, but I’m counting on myself to get past this.

We’ll see, indeed.

Today was quite satisfying in all purging respects.
May 3, 2010 ~ The back seat of my car was filled with bags and boxes. Maybe playing some catch up. I needed the assistance of the two guys at the Salvation Army drop station to help me unload. Clothes, stationary, candlesticks, snow pants, books, kid’s stickers & craft supplies, sofa pillows. A hideous blue lamp from the late sixties, shower rod, wall clock, gift ribbon and wrap and cards. This stuff was all easy. There was no hesitation in my hands when shifting, weeding any of these things. But my Panasonic Receiver? That was a different story. This, we'll need to talk about. More tomorrow.