A Qualitative Judgement

Well, the decluttering death march continues at its snail’s pace.

Yeah, that’s hyperbole. Not so much about the “snail’s pace” bit, but more the self-indulgent and ham-handed analogy. After all, struggling with the quote-unquote burden of too much abundance in my life and home is the Firstiest of First World Problems, wouldn’t you say?

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Nesting

Mr. Mezzo and I spent last weekend playing tourist in Boston–a long weekend scheduled ostensibly to celebrate his birthday. In all honesty, that was just a convenient excuse to take a day off from work and enjoy the city sights without having to worry about T schedules or keeping a designated driver to get us safely home from the T station.

Our hotel room had a windowsill-sized balcony–seriously, I don’t think it was wide enough for me to close the door behind me when I stood out there. Perhaps because it wasn’t the kind of hotel balcony likely to get a lot of foot traffic, a small bird had built its nest under the corner of the balcony awning.

Back when I lived in the heart of Philly, I remember being constantly awestruck by the continued preponderance of nature and wildlife in that urban setting, and the unending creativity shown by these creatures in building their homes among the asphalt and concrete.

The epitome of blooming where one is planted.

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Creating (a) Space

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’d been holding the hope that we would be all the way unpacked and organ-imized at the one-year anniversary of moving into our “house on the hill.”

Well, we still have a few weeks till that anniversary — 24 days, to be exact — but I’m ready to call it: I will not be making that hoped-for deadline.

buried-boxesQuite frankly, the momentum for unpacking and all has ground to a complete halt during the last few months.

There’s plenty of good reasons for that. First, there was The Cruise, which took us out-of-town for more than a fortnight, and which required a certain amount of packing/unpacking of its own accord. There’s also the fact that one of the benefits we wanted to create by moving north from Philly was the ability to spend our weekends up at the lake in NH — and we’ve certainly spent a few of our summer weekends happily living out that intention. And then there’s been a few busy patches at work (she says, putting it ever-so-mildly).

But as I began to be aware that the one-year anniversary was approaching and to realize that I was going to miss my secret goal, I started looking at the ways I’ve been giving zero effort to unpacking, and I asked myself what other factors might have contributed to this stop in momentum. And I began wondering if those other factors had both a practical and an energetic dimension to them.

On the practical front, we’ve hit the stage where some of the unpacked boxes are definitively things we want to keep (old tax files, my cross-stitching supplies, etc.) but that don’t actually have any storage furniture to be unpacked into. (Some of our old furniture — including the filing cabinet and some shelving units — got jettisoned during the move, either because it was too old to be worth keeping, or because the ceiling in our finished basement — which is where these items are intended to be stored — is just a teensy-weensy bit too low.)

The energetic front is sort of linked to the practical lack of storage furniture: I didn’t have a vision for the room where the unpacked boxes are currently living.

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Let me set the stage to make this all (I hope!) slightly more comprehensible. The architectural features of the house mean that the finished basement falls roughly into three separate rooms, plus a wide long hallway. These “rooms” are open to one another, but still function as separate areas of space. When we moved in, we knew that the first room at the bottom of the stairs was going to be a little library/reading nook area, and that was, for the most part, set up pretty quickly. The hallway was wide enough that we could put up shelves for my prodigious CD collection (plus our movies), which was perfect because the third room, where the hallway leads to, was where we wanted to set up a media room. Those CD shelves were also taken care of pretty quickly, while the future media room and the undetermined center room were where the tons and tons of unpacked boxes waited for attention.

As we unpacked, we kept consolidating the geography so that a higher and higher percentage of unpacked boxes were in the center room, the room we simply began calling “unpacking central.” By taking this approach, we were able to get the media room clear — or, at least, clear enough — so we could start setting it up. The decor is still what we’ve been calling nouveau dorm room, but the core elements — big screen TV, soundbar, PS3 — are there, and we can deal with having milk-crate shelving for the time being.

And then there’s unpacking central.

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It was actually really helpful for a while not to have any other vision for the center room aside from its current role as unpacking central. The unpacking process, as a whole, has required me to really come face to face with all my hoarding/shopaholic impulses — facing up not only to the shame around that specific behavior pattern, but also to all the emotional baggage and patterning that led me to be a hoarder to begin with. Quite frankly, it’s been hard emotional work. Good work, important work, work well-worth the doing. Absolutely worth the effort. But hard, nonetheless.

Amidst that hard work, I definitely appreciated not having the extra burden of pressure in thinking “We could already have our ______ (game room, exercise room, whatever), if only I could get my fucking act together!

Yeah, it was nice to not have that piece of internal monologue running.

But my recent spate of inaction had me wondering if I had now become just a little bit too complacent in that room’s identity as “unpacking central” — like, somewhere in the back of my mind, was I thinking “Well, we don’t even know what we’re gonna use the room for, so what’s the hurry to finish cleaning it up?!?

So tonight, Mr. Mezzo and I did a little bit of talking and visioning about the kind of hybrid storage/crafting/creative nook we want to create for that center room. We don’t have everything figured out, but enough is settled that we can take advantage of Massachusetts’ tax free shopping weekend with an Ikea run tomorrow to get a couple storage pieces.

Two birds with one stone: start creating and carrying forward a vision to help re-inspire me towards the unpacking, plus some furniture pieces that mean unpacked item actually have a damn place to go.

So maybe we won’t hit the one-year moving anniversary. Maybe by Yule, instead…

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Image credit: http://doingitwright.wordpress.com/2013/07/13/the-5-laws-of-moving-house/

basket of magazines

Lead Me Not Into Temptation

I’ve done a halfway double down on the 5×5 goals tonight. Not on account of choir tomorrow. (Which I do have. I’m just hoping I’ll still manage to get tomorrow’s “quota” handled on tomorrow.)

Let’s call tonight’s double down a combination of playing catch-up and covering my ass (in case tomorrow’s rehearsal does throw me off-track).

Anyhow, one of the things I tackled tonight in the “everyday cleaning and clutter management” category was to get a (partial) handle on however-many days of accumulated mail. (Checkbook-balancing and bill-paying are definitely on the agenda for tomorrow morning or during lunch break.)

Now, one of the biggest categories of mail these days is the mail we call “junk”: advertising mailers, credit card offers, and lots and lots of catalogs. I’ve gotten pretty good at discarding the first two categories with ruthless efficiency,* but the catalogs have ended up having a slightly different ritual of their own.

basket of magazinesHere’s how the system works. I put a basket in the living room specifically to hold catalogs, and as new ones arrive, I just keep adding them to the front of the “stack” until such time as the basket is full. Then I sit down and weed out all the duplicate catalogs until the basket holds just the most recent catalog from each company.**

I’ve been doing it this way for a number of years. Why? I wish I had a better answer for that question. At this stage of the game, the pattern has become so unconscious and unthinking that it’s hard to recapture whatever reasons I may have had to do this in the first place.

I think I wanted a rich collection on hand to give me ideas whenever a holiday came around where I needed to buy a gift for someone. I think I wanted sources of inspiration as I lived surrounded by parental hand-me-downs hoping someday to have/create a home environment that was more authentically expressive of my soul and passions. I think I hoped that being able to glance through catalogs and imagine having things would allow me to develop a deeper level of discernment around which desired-for purchases were items that would actually enrich my life and which were more passing, addictive, covetous moments.

That last thought/hope certainly never came to fruition. Not that I’m trying to suggest that my ongoing shopping addiction is caused by having catalogs in the house.*** However, I don’t think it’s been a great help to have them around. Better than nothing insofar as having a way to (somewhat) contain the paper monster, but still: probably not a great help to have them around.

So tonight, as I went through the accumulated mail, every catalog went right into the recycling bin. Over the weekend, when we’re gathering up paper for the recycling run, I’ll probably make a good dent in the basket, too. And, as new catalogs come in with the day’s mail, I’m going to experiment with tossing them straight into recycling with the rest of the junk mail.****

Will it have any great effect on my shopping issues? Who knows?

Will it have an immediate effect on the amount of paper clutter in the house? Why yes, yes it will.

And I’ll celebrate any win I can get.

* Except, of course, in stretches of time when I let the mail pile up unexamined. Like now. (Also, for the record: “ruthless efficiency” as regards credit card offers includes a trip through the shredder. For the offer paperwork, not for me.)

** There are, yes, a few companies that just go straight to the discard pile rather than being part of this whole ritual of commerce and covetousness. But not as many as you’d think, and definitely not as many as there should be.

*** After all, who needs catalogs to spark temptation when there is the Internet and the corporate media machine?

**** Or tossing most of them, if there turns out to be a catalog that is honestly timely and relevant to some purchasing decision of-the-moment. Hey, this is all about practice, not perfection…

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Tonight’s soundtrack: Gipsy Kings, Este Mundo.

Image credit: http://www.organizedhousewife.com/2012/11/02/practical-solutions-boundaries/

a woman holding shopping bags

Papering Over My Deficiencies with Shopping Bags

a woman holding shopping bagsAbout as close as I came to a New Year’s Resolution at the start of 2014 was to tell myself I wanted to get my spending and shopping under control.*  And I think I made some progress on that front for a little while. But I’ve kinda fallen off the wagon during the last couple of weeks.**

Now, part of this is entirely justifiable: some special people have birthdays and graduations coming up, so there were presents to buy. But then there’s a lot else, and I  could provide (manufacture?) justifications for those purchases, but it’s very much on thinner ice.

I mean, yes, those new books could provide useful information aiding my professional growth and knowledge base. But there’s also lots of other books I already own, and a whole other bunch I could borrow from the office library, that would also aid my professional growth and knowledge base. So why was it necessary to purchase these?

Similar critiques and questions could be asked about other recent purchases, but I don’t feel like going to that level of public self-flagellation. Besides, I want to be able to sometimes do things for joy or pure pleasure — and sometimes that might mean buying something for the pure joy the item will bring me rather than for some more rational gain. It’s just when I do too much of that, and when it’s not even particularly joyful, that I need to be cautious with myself.

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Often for me, the temptation to buy something else comes from an internal anxiety about being somehow lacking, insufficient, ill-equipped to face my world and my life. Perhaps I’m having some stress and failures at work, and I start thinking that maybe if I read the right book, I can fix that. Or maybe I’m feeling ugly or ashamed of my fatness, and I fall into the fantasy that the right outfit (or cosmetics, or jewelry) will make me more “acceptable” or “presentable” to the world at large.

Can I just pause for a moment to bemoan the ways that so many of my wounds boil down to that sense of being “not enough”? Notice the phrasing for this particular construct: I am looking to acquire the right thing, because I am looking for the thing that will serve as curative or antidote to my own assumed wrongness.

Anyhow, I’m sensing that there’s some inside-out connection between the successful completion of my HCG shots and this latest stretch of feeling inadequate and trying to bury my insufficiency under a pile of new things. ‘Cos this week: reaching a key finish line, completing my shots, beginning to expand my food quantities and choices — has all felt really anti-climactic.

I’ve had these sorts of moments in the past. Something really big and good has happened: new marriage, new job, new house, what-have-you. And it’s exciting and all, but there’s also a weird tinge of disappointment, because that great new thing, however big and dramatically cool it may be, doesn’t ever stop me from being me.

And when the operating fiction that rules my self-image is so tightly locked into the lie that I’m not enough? Then still being me feels very disappointing, indeed.

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When all is said and done, I still think I’m keeping a teeny-tiny bit ahead of this stretch of acquisitiveness: more purchases have been useful than not, and the overall pace of things has me purging more old stuff out of the house than I’ve been bringing new stuff in. And I’m hopeful that waking myself up to the ways I’ve fallen (at least temporarily) back into this old pattern will enable me to step away from this behavior. At least, until my next “relapse.”***

And maybe someday I’ll have detoxed enough where I’m no longer so susceptible to the lie of being not good enough.

Definitely something to keep praying for and working towards.

* Which, like so many New Year’s Resolutions around the world and throughout the years, is the kind of thing I’ve told myself, and failed at, before…

** See previous note re: New Year’s Resolutions and their rate of failure.

*** See both previous notes re: New Year’s Resolutions and their rate of failure.

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Image credit: http://thecurvyfashionista.com/2012/08/what-i-consider-before-i-make-a-purchase/