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.


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.


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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The Fine Line Between Practice and Pressure

A couple weeks ago, I saw a sudden flurry of Facebook activity talking about the “40 bags in 40 days” Lenten challenge. Even though I’ve not been aware of the movement till now, I guess it’s been going on for a couple years or so?*

Anyhow, the challenge is concisely summarized over at White House Black Shutters:

A forty day period in the spring (coinciding with the 40 days of Lent) where you focus on cleaning one area per day. In this one area you challenge yourself to declutter, simplify, decrapify, and get rid of things you don’t need. The goal is one bag a day but you can have more or less.

The 2014 challenge officially goes from Wednesday, March 5th to Saturday, April 19th. Sundays are your day off.

Even though this tradition seems to have started among Christian bloggers, the discussions I saw this year included individuals of other faith traditions also taking up the idea as a way to bring inspiration and structure to a spring cleaning/decluttering effort.

I can absolutely see the appeal, and I gave the idea a long think for myself. After all, I’m betting we still have 40 or 50 boxes left to unpack,** and a lot of the unpacking process is about sorting through all the clutter I didn’t get rid of in Philadelphia and determining what’s going straight from a moving box to the Goodwill pile.

But ultimately, I opted out of the 40 bags/40 days challenge for 2014.

I have a well-developed skill of setting high bars for myself. I can take just about any structure that is meant to help in goal-setting and supporting regular practice of a thing — meditation, exercise, decluttering, what-have-you — and I will use it as a club to beat myself with when I inevitably fall short. ‘Cos I’m human, and sooner or later I’m gonna miss a day’s practice. But I’m not yet all that good at forgiving my human foibles, dusting off the day’s “failure,” and getting back into the practice tomorrow.

So it just didn’t sense like I had the internal capacity this year to be kind to myself within a set structure like the “40 bags” challenge. I’ll be curious to see if I’m in a different place when Lent and spring roll around in 2015.

Till then, I’m doing what I am able to do within the boundaries of my limitations. Work weeks are tougher for me to do any unpacking/decluttering, but I’m building better Monday-Friday habits than I had in Philly about simple things like washing the dishes, putting my clothes away (or in the hamper) rather than leaving them on the bathroom floor, and making the bed.*** And then, each weekend day, I try to get at least one more box unpacked.

At some level, these are very much like goals for a daily practice, but there’s just enough softness and looseness around them that I’m better able to let go any sense of “failure” if there’s a weekend where I don’t unpack any boxes, and instead of immobilizing myself in the beat-up, I just get back to it next weekend and keep chipping away.

In my system, there can be something of a razor’s edge between “practice” and “pressure,” but I seem to be managing to keep myself on the right side of that fine, fine line.

* Considering that last year at Lenten time, I was finishing one job, starting another, and doing phase one of the “3 moves, 2 houses and 1 apartment in 6 months” relocation odyssey, I think I can be forgiven for my ignorance of this tradition.

** Small boxes (file box size, for the most part), so it’s slightly less terrifying than it sounds. Slightly.

*** Yes, the fact that these are victories says a lot about the dire straights we lived in back in Philly.