Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems. From where I stand.


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The Long Road to Minimalism – Grand Finale

As I’ve been doing my purging, I’ve been fussing about the difficulty of the exercise on Facebook. At some point a little while back, I realized that in addition to my emotional attachments to books, I also seemed to be struggling with paring down my sock collection. Well, ok, “collection” is a strong word, implying a kind of intentional acquisition, when in actuality my sock drawers (yes, plural) filled more organically than intentionally. Still, when faced with discarding some of my socks, I found myself getting teary-eyed. “Oh,” I’d sniff sentimentally, “these were the socks I wore when hiking the Badlands of South Dakota.” (Then I sniffed physically, and into the waste bin they went. But not all my choices were that easy.)

In one of my sillier Facebook whine-fests, I asked people to supply me with arguments — in poem form — for ridding myself of excess socks. I got many good responses, but this one from my sister-in-law was my favorite. I asked if I could share it, and she graciously gave me permission. I give you…

One Sock, Two Sock, Red Sock, Blue Sock

By A Seuss Wanna-be (Kimberly Arlia)

 

One sock

Two sock

Red sock

Blue sock

 

Black sock

Blue sock

Old sock

New sock

 

This one has a little cat.

This one has a little bat.

Say!  What a ton

But socks are fun!

 

Yes.  Some are red.  And some are blue.

Some are old.  And some are new.

 

Some are worn.

And some are torn.

Some you outgrew.

And some Bodhi likes to chew.

 

Why are they

Worn and torn?

Outgrown and chewed?

HEAVENS KNOWS – your mother spews!

 

Some are thin,

And some are f a t.

Some are missing

Taken by a rat?

 

From there to here, from here to there,

Funny socks

Are everywhere.

 

You see them come.

You see them go.

But now you need

To shop no mo’

 

Pair them up.

Take a day!

Got a hole?

Throw away!

 

Organize, stow away!

Make it neat.

Socks are a treat,

For pretty feet!

 

Bodhi-framed

“I’ve been framed.”

For more on my sock trials and tribulations, visit my story on Medium: 12 Steps to Minimalism (alternately: The Sock Incident).


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The Long Road to Minimalism – Part 2

I took a deep breath and stepped inside what hours ago been the home of a dear friend. The lingering intensity of the smoke smell created the impression that the house was still smoldering. The worn wood floors already warped with the water damage, and the blackened walls, combined with the boards we’d just finished putting over the broken windows, made the interior murky and dark. On my right, just inside the door, was the floor-to-ceiling bookcase I’d often envied. All of those wonderful books, reduced now to charred corpses with unreadable spines and disintegrating, water-logged pages. Irretrievable.

Years later, reflecting on the emotional and spiritual toll the fire had taken on her, my friend told me, “I realized, after the fire, that my things owned me, not the other way around. I won’t ever let that happen again.”

Discarding the Stuff that Held Me Hostage

I’ve been on a journey of…well, discovery as I prepare myself for living in a yurt. The yurt itself is simply an approach to bringing my lived values into better alignment with my stated values. I’ve always perceived myself as someone who valued simplicity and sustainability.

Then I take a look around at all my stuff. And I realize I’m being held hostage to modern convenience and all of its material trappings.

So the past year or so, I’ve been focusing more on discarding my excess belongings. There are a lot of them. Some of these belongings are things I picked up because they were “cute” or “fun” — but served no purpose except to collect dust. Others have been gifts from friends and family — highly appreciated but loved less for themselves than for the givers. Still others have simply been duplicates — the outward manifestations of a scarcity mindset, where one of an item is never enough because…what if? After watching T.E.D. Talks about minimalism and reading blog posts about throwing stuff away and even purchasing a book, I finally found an approach that worked for me.

I was a Tasmanian devil, stuff flying in every direction and landing in boxes for donation or to be gifted to friends and family members who said they wanted some of the things I discarded. I even sold a few major items — yay, me! It was glorious. Freeing. With every box I carried to my truck, I felt lighter. A minimalist lifestyle was soon to be mine!

Then I slammed right into a brick wall: my books.

The Things We Own and the Things that Own Us

My books mean more to me than some members of my family. (Sorry, Uncle George, but I can’t keep you. I’ve found you a nice, new family in Newark. Here’s your suitcase. Pretend we never met.) In fact, some of my books have moved hundreds of miles with me — twice — because I couldn’t part with them. And I’m not talking about a box or two of books. This is a book collection that has its own zip code. (Slight exaggeration.)

From Arthurian legend to sustainable living; from paper-craft to poetry; from contemporary Native American literature to philosophy and yoga and drawing and cookbooks…the list of topics and genres covers a broad territory of human thought and activity. My books define and describe me; they entertain and inform me; they ground me. They’re an important part of my identity. They evoke emotions that no electronic version can mimic, much less replace. I love the smell of them, the weight of them in my hands, the way I can thumb through their pages and rediscover them again and again. I’ve made notes in many of them, conversations with myself that remind me of who I’ve been and by what paths I became the woman I am today.

My books aren’t just “things,” I thought. They’re an extension of me. My books…are my history.

It was this last insight that provided me with the perspective I needed to let them go. History is important — we need it to ground ourselves and to connect with vital parts of who we are. But I’m not building a history. I’m building a future, and I need to find other (less space-consuming) ways to stay connected with my emotional past. Why was I carrying around the books I’d collected for the PhD I’ll never finish? Why did I hang onto that “must-read” when I knew I didn’t want to, so I never would? How many of those gardening books did I really refer to — and why was I keeping the ones that weren’t already dog-eared and dirty and worn with years of use? Did I really need to hang onto all that Shakespeare, or could I simply Google the bon mot I wanted to quote, when the need arose? (Yes, I’m serious. Don’t judge.)

Slowly, I began unwinding the tentacles that were strangling my heart and freeing myself of the weight of my literary history.

Thinking Inside the (Moving) Box

As the weeks went on, I sold or donated the books I realized I no longer loved — or, in fact, never did love. The books that still had meaning to me but no longer had a real use, I gave to friends I thought would enjoy them. (And they can feel free to donate or sell them as they choose.) I’m setting a target for only a few boxes of books instead of the library I’ve been lugging along with me every time I move. Every time I hold a book in my hand, I try to separate myself from it and focus on how I feel about it, all by itself.

I still have shelves and shelves to empty, but my paring-down now makes me more intentional about how I define words like love and need. I’m learning to hang onto what I truly treasure, those things I retain for themselves and not for some perceived obligation or the wistful memory of a path not followed.

I’m learning about traveling light, without the drag of a past I no longer need. I want to own my things, not be owned by them.


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The Long Road to Minimalism – Part 1

I’ve cleaned off one shelf, can I clean off another?

I’ve emptied a drawer, can I empty a cabinet?

I’ve freed up a chest, can I free up a closet?

Can I live without this spoon? Yes. This bowl? No. This shirt, these shoes, this necklace, this book case, these videos, this mug, this plant, these sheets, this rug, this sofa, these pillows, this blanket…this complicated and over-full life?

Over the past 12 months, as I’ve prepared for life in a yurt, I’ve slowly purged my belongings. I’d been trying to get organized off and on for several years, with only marginal success. I knew I’d need to adopt a minimalist lifestyle, at least on some level, in order to live more freely. But I was having a hard time getting my de-cluttering efforts off the ground. I’d read articles, bought books, tried systems. But I always seem to get bogged down. What if this document is important later? I might be able to use this ugly, ill-fitting t-shirt for yard work… For months, I struggled with everything: media, shoes, kitchen utensils…you name it. Desperate to make some kind of progress, I tried the “Japanese method for tidying up.”

My Resistance to Eliminating Clutter

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondō suggests a very different, very disciplined approach to de-cluttering. The central tenet of the book seems, at least to me, to be focusing — in this case on the things, not their location in the house, which is the traditional way of tidying up and often results in nomadic, rather than reduced, clutter. Focus is not my strong suit, to put it mildly. So, the approach made sense, at least on the surface. I set off to give her system a try. And almost immediately failed.

Discard by category, not by room? Right. I ended up wandering the house aimlessly, distractedly looking for all the items in the category. By the time I found them all (or remembered what I was looking for when I started), I was too tired to care. And what if I missed something? Or mis-categorized it? Hopeless.

Hold it in my hands and see if it sparks joy? Heck, I’m not even sure I know what it is. Or was. When it was attached to the thing it belonged to. When that thing was in working order. Soooo…I’d better hang onto it. In case I ever find that one thing again and need the…whateveritis. (Back into the drawer it went.)

Tidy all at once, not a little every day? OK, but if I’m gathering all of the items in a category in one space so I can look see what-all I have, I’ve just rendered that table/sofa/bed unusable while I (inevitably) agonize over my decisions. And she’s telling me it might take six months to complete the whole process for all our possessions? Some of us have day jobs!

I seriously thought Kondō was a nut-job.

As time slipped by, and the pressure to get my possessions under control increased, I started panicking. Why was I struggling so hard? What, really, was my underlying resistance to discarding my belongings? The answer was simple, if not easy to resolve: My anxiety and scarcity-thinking (“what if?”) were holding me back. I was continually delaying, even avoiding, making decisions, and the wheels fell off the whole process as a result. It was frustrating.

The 20-Foot-Diameter Motivator

So, how would I get around this barrier to my successfully becoming a minimalist? Oddly, it was the practicalities of moving into my dream home — a yurt in the mountains — that provided me with the clarity I needed: What will fit into a 20-foot-diameter space with no closets?

*!!!*

Sobering, right?

And an effective motivator. I took a deep breath and dove back into my clothes and shoes — one of the “easy” categories, for me, since I have few emotional attachments to my clothes. Soon, I was carting boxes off to Goodwill a truckload at a time and paring down to the bare essentials like a pro. I was even managing to work for a living as I sorted! Clothes, kitchen utensils, jewelry, shoes — gone. Board games, craft supplies, sports and leisure equipment — all of which had been gathering dust in various and sundry closets and corners and plastic storage containers– found new homes.

I dug deep. As I did, I felt lighter and freer. But I still had — no, have — too much stuff.

Multiple Passes: Cheating at Tidying Up

At some point, I realized that Kondō and I have different goals: She focuses on tidying; I’m focused on gutting. So, while her system is extremely useful, it stops somewhat short of the degree of minimalism I’ll need to achieve if I’m to preserve the open spaciousness a yurt offers. I also have to walk a very careful line between keeping just what I need to live and making my life uncomfortably Spartan. Financially, I won’t be able to replace things on a whim, so my selections for the discard pile must be carefully considered. And I’m too old and soft to comfortably go hard-core with my minimalism, making my task harder, in some ways, because I can’t — or won’t — just ditch it all and walk off into the sunset with nothing but a backpack and my dog.

Nonetheless I’m making progress, albeit by cheating a little. With my 20-foot-diameter motivator firmly in mind, I’m making multiple passes through my house, category by category, sometimes mentally earmarking items for later removal. This process often involves packing items away for a few weeks to see if I go looking for them later. If I do, they come out of the box; if I don’t, they get hauled away. Furniture items need to stay in place until I’m ready to move, although some of it will be donated rather than come along for the ride. So I’m not clearing my house all at once, but I’m making steady progress toward the end goal.

Onward, Despite a Hitch or Two

I still have significant challenges to face. For instance, although Kondō strongly cautions against adapting her system to our personalities — the very personalities that created our cluttered environments to begin with — our emotional attachments are real (and valid) factors in our ability to follow the program. My emotional attachment to my books (and, even more strangely, my socks) must be processed and dealt with, which I talk about in Part 2 of this post. (Books, not socks. I really, really don’t need to discuss my socks…)

In the meantime, I keep doing my research into composting toilets (They don’t all stink!), grey-water catchment systems, solar power…and all of that stuff, much of which lives (or will live) on my Pinterest boards.