Shoe Ponderings

Welcome to a totally pointless and silly post with a ridiculous pretentious title, brought to you by the fact that I haven’t posted in a long while and just want to post for the sake of it, and everyone likes picture posts and peeks into each other’s lives. Amirite?

I am thinking about replacing uncomfortable shoes with mostly New Balance or something similar. I walk places and life is too short for uncomfortable shoes. I really like my New Balance and have had nothing else for running shoes in many years. Most comfortable (for me) shoe ever! This is my most comfortable pair of shoes, but obviously these are not going to go with everything!

The “inspiration” for this is this pair of Clarks.

They look like they would be great and in fact they are quite comfortable – except for the fact that the backs rub my Achilles tendon so bad it’s raw after just 15 minutes of walking. Socks do not help. That is not much use. I don’t know why I keep trying shoes that I have already determined to be not good, which I’m guessing I’m not the only one who does this, but this time, post-Kondo and all, I thought right, that’s it for these. After 15 minutes of walking in them I was tempted to take them off and walk the rest of the way barefoot.

The one pair of shoes you’re most likely to see me wearing besides some comfortable flip flops I got two summers ago at the farm supply store are these Aerosoles I got from ThredUp. While obviously not the level of comfort of the New Balance, they are very wearable and I like them a lot and don’t have any issues walking a good bit in them.

This summer I decided to try wearing some wedge sandals I have had for a few years and not worn. I love how they look, but I cannot be walking around in them. Maybe I’ll save them in case I get invited to a party or something, lol. Yeah, who am I kidding really.

So I think perhaps apart from the Aerosoles and a pair of Taryn Rose ballet flats (also from ThredUp, don’t worry – I got those really cheap and they are super comfortable and cute), I will (when budget allows) start to phase out the uncomfortable shoes and replace them with something more pleasant to wear. I do own one pair of nice heels but I’ve never worn them. I suppose I am just not much for wearing heels, though I can appreciate that they look nice.

I sold two pairs of uncomfortable shoes on eBay this summer, so I may just try that again to get rid of the ones I no longer want to keep around. I think for the small number I have it’s fine to keep some less than perfectly comfortable dress shoes for the time being. I don’t really go out or get invited to anything at this point, but I have to have hope. 😉

And now I’d better go and do something productive.

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Looking in the Rear View Mirror

It’s finally rear view mirror time. Some seasons of life feel like they will never end, but of course they always do, one way or another. This one lasted a little over a year, but let me tell you – it was a LONG year. Somewhere in there I lost the ability to give a shit about much and that has been a boon I think. The fire of purgatory hurts, but it is a cleansing fire. This is how I see it, with no intent to over dramatize in any way. I find myself already forgetting how painful it was, and in some regard I don’t want to forget. Then again, maybe that is life’s way of allowing you to move on. The pain of childbirth is forgotten remarkably quickly, for example. If it wasn’t, no one would have a second child, much less a third, forth, or more. We’d have all died out by now if our pain memories were very strong.

All the same, I think it can be too easy to forget trials and thus forget all it taught you, hence life also has a way of teaching you the same lesson over and over until your dumb ass finally gets it. I definitely don’t want to have to go through that again if I can help it. So whatever I have to endure now is for the sake of not repeating the grade I just finished and move on to the next one, hoping it’s time for it to get a little easier to handle.

I also just don’t give a rat’s arse about politics and world events. Nothing I might think about it will have the slightest impact on any of it, so I choose to ignore it all. I only know about what my husband decides is worth telling me about. The end. I’m happier not knowing, frankly. No one is going to sort the world out until they sort themselves out.

I’ve kind of come to terms with the fact that I am a product of the culture in which I grew up. This means that I am definitely a city person and I’m done with the running off to the country fantasy. Done. Done done done! Maybe for a vacation, but not to live there unless every city I can get to totally goes to shit and becomes uninhabitable. Basically, until the city burns like Sodom and Gomorrah, I’m staying. (Hyperbole makes my point). In all seriousness though, the point is that nowhere is perfect and nothing is perfect. The pursuit of the perfect life will always end in disappointment and more want. 

This is why I don’t like the phrase “pursuit of happiness”. You cannot pursue happiness – the pursuit of it negates it. You can find it within contentment, but not if you are pursuing it as an end in itself.

There will always be something else to want. 

There is the Japanese practice of wabi-sabi, or embracing imperfection. This is something I have striven to do in my life but not really been all that good at in a deeper sense. Maybe it’s easy for me to say now that I am in a better place, but as my 11 year-old commented on how much she liked this place, I said just imagine someone else moving in here from a big house because they got divorced or something, and they’d be all depressed because of how small it is, and some of the doors don’t close properly, and things like that. It’s all about perspective. We think it’s awesome because we just spent an entire year living in a 323 square-foot tin box. We can easily appreciate all the good in it. As far as I’m concerned, the imperfections are most welcome and remind me of the last place I really felt at home and where I lived long enough to make it home.

The strange thing is I feel in some way like I’ve been plopped back to where I was before I moved to the US in 2015. This apartment has a lot of similarities to my old one to the extent that when I was sweeping yesterday, I went to rest the dustpan in a nook where I used to rest it, but of course, that nook doesn’t exist in this place. I lived in my old place for almost 9 years, which is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place. My kids went from diapers to school there. In my mind that is as close to “home” as I know of, so it is in some sense that being here feels something like an opportunity and I just can’t screw it up this time.

There was a pretty recent time when I would have wished this place had a gas stove. I like gas stoves and all, but electric also cooks food and is easier to wipe every day and keep clean. Although the electricity went off yesterday and I realized I couldn’t make a cup of tea. Have to grab the little camp stove. I could wish for things like not having a street lamp right outside my window, but I think it’s worth the trade-off. It reminds me that I no longer live so far away from anything besides a tree. I love trees – and I wouldn’t like this city too much if it had no trees – but I also like to see people walking places and to be able to walk and get some vegetables whenever I need some unless for some reason I need some at 3am. Then I’m out of luck, whereas two months of the year in the country I could go pick what I wanted out of the garden. So that’s one con to living in the city.

I’m perfectly sure that as I get settled in, I will once again want things, but I also will try to revisit the feelings I have now about it all, and remember how little of it I really need. I think it will help to stay in saving mode. The priority now is to work out a budget and stick to it, create a good emergency fund, pay off debts, and save for anything that is really needed. In this mode, you really see how much of your wants are really not necessary and in many cases wouldn’t particularly improve one’s quality of life. It is well known that beyond a determined level of income, which varies depending on the place of course, there are diminishing returns. Look it up – it’s surprisingly low! People do not get happier or a better sense of well-being past a certain threshold. When you strip things down it isn’t too hard to see why this would be the case.

My conundrum is that the kind of place I am attracted to tends to be attractive to leftists and various other loons, and this is why I kind of have to turn off all that. It’s survival but also just being able to get along and not get all bent out of shape over opinions. I think city “conservatives” kind of have to do this. That said, I would not characterize myself as “right wing” either, nor even “centrist”. I don’t think the truth lies in the middle (“between the extremes of right and wrong”) but that the truth lives where it lives. Some might be found in the middle, some on the “extreme” left and some on the “extreme” right. Thus I can find points of agreement with many people but have points of disagreement with those same people. Then there are endless things that I really have no idea about if I’m honest, and that is where I chose not to waste the few shits I have left to give.

This leads to another thing that most of us say but don’t really do, which is to acknowledge that each of us has a path we’re on and sometimes those paths cross or appear quite similar, and others they’re just totally different. Instead we pay lip service to this idea while envying others. The problem with envy is that if you want what someone else has, you have to take all of it, and everyone has things they’d rather not have and things you’d dislike intensely. That is life. I told my younger daughter as we were walking the long walk back from her school after back to school night, if you find yourself wishing you hadn’t decided to go back to school (after 2.5 years of home educating), just remember, shit sandwich. That is, in life you have to eat a shit sandwich, so you might as well choose the one with an olive. The olive is whatever benefit is derived from any particular of life’s shit sandwiches.

And this is the kind of philosophy we can all get on board with. It’s much less depressing in reality than all the crap about “dreams” and “you can be anything”. What a no olive shit sandwich that is!

Negative Space

Please excuse the lack of posting and the current strange philosophical musings. I’m still in stage three of the photo decluttering – that is, the stage where I reprocess everything I picked as my “Hall of Fame” collection dating back to 2004 when I got my first 2MP digital camera. In the process though I have streamlined my workflow and discovered a better way of processing, so another point of simplifying my life!

That aside, I have some thoughts about the idea of “negative space” that have cropped up during this frenzy of photo editing. The artists among us will know what I’m talking about, but I will demonstrate with some pictures and then get into the philosophical aspect of it. This concept applies to music as well, as I remember someone saying something along the lines of “it’s what you don’t play” – that is negative space. Of course, John Cage’s piece 4’33” is a demonstration of this concept as well, albeit possibly an absurd one, perhaps absurd by design, I really don’t know or care.

In the following photograph, about two thirds of it is negative space. I will show it with that cropped out as well and I invite you simply to contemplate the difference. I prefer not to get into too much analysis of it and allow it to speak for itself, because I think most people just instinctively feel the difference. If anyone wants to offer an analysis, feel free to do so.

With the negative space (as shot).

And without the negative space (cropped).

 And here is one that has a lot of “stuff”, as a contrast. 

It’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with a lack of negative space in an artistic sense as it is somewhat a matter of taste. The first photo “works” either  way, but I prefer it as shot. There exists a sort of counter movement to minimalism called maximalism, which I can certainly appreciate as well as some of those people do have an interesting artistic flair of their own. The ice cream shop pictured (Dutch Dreams in Toronto) actually moved to a larger and far less interesting location. The cramped, dark, and full of clutter location pictured was a popular land mark place that had been there for decades, sometimes with a queue going up the street in the summer.

Nevertheless, I tend more toward the simple for my own life, and what I notice is where I try to leave some breathing room on surfaces, things appear and gather, as if nature really does abhor a vacuum. It does take effort to keep those spaces and to find room to breathe in life. I think the impulse to clutter both physical and mental signals a disorder in the self. There is a difference between a sort of ordered clutter as in maximalism and the general disorder that clutters most people’s lives. The former is done with intent and the items are loved, whereas the latter “happens” without a mind towards things that are loved and wanted.

Modern people seem to lack negative space in their lives. The cult of so-called positivity may have ramifications beyond “being positive”, whatever that might mean. We view “negative” as taking away, and we view that as bad, like children who have their video games taken away as a punishment. Taking things away is viewed as a kind of punishment and thus “negative” connotes “bad” in the minds of people. Silence is a form of negative space that we can’t seem to abide as well. If it’s not the TV on all day, it’s the radio, internet, podcasts, YouTube videos, chat windows, blogs… There is certainly no shortage of noise with which to fill our lives, and this applies equally to physical clutter. 

While some may disagree, I think we need to redeem the negative and find that we do indeed gain something from discarding something. We gain space and sanity at least, and these are no small things. 

The Digital Bubble

That’s right, it’s another article on the Internet bemoaning the Internet, but in my defense, it was first written as a draft in a paper notebook at least a couple of weeks ago, so that makes it OK. Because I say so. So there.

It seems to me that at this point, we are far enough in that it’s unlikely we will get out. We have replaced the genuine community of place with the faux-community of shared identity, belief, and values. No longer face to face, we have become blips on a screen, desperately trying to get some sense of what we’ve lost and what many under 35-40 have never experienced.

The problem is that the Internet is always there, telling us what we want to hear, with our carefully curated opinions that need not be challenged by reality. In our hidy hole, it is safe, and even the negative is comforting since it confirms our worldview. But the funny thing about a worldview is that no one is objective. What you choose to focus on says much about you as a person, for good or ill. It is one thing to keep up generally on “the news”, though I’m skeptical of the value of that even, at least for myself, but to spend countless hours on “analysis” that really doesn’t change from year to year is not a fruitful use of time, in my opinion.

One could argue the same of books, but I think it depends greatly on the book and the motivation for reading it. If the result of constant reading is more or less nil, then it too is a waste of time. Most books are no more worth reading than chatter worth listening to. Most people choose books that tickle their ears too. Of course, I realize it could also be said of the Internet that it depends on the user and his motivation, but I think it is a different beast altogether. More often than not, I have heard the excuse from others as well as myself that it is “interactive” and “not passive like TV” and you can choose what to look at and it’s educational, etc.; but I think this is merely the justification of an addict.

This is a good article that describes what I’m talking about well: I Was A Podcast Addict There’s the avoidance, the addictive aspect along with excuses and justifications, the curating of opinions, and the effect it has on the author’s life. It may seem an extreme example, but is it really so extreme? I don’t think it’s actually all that far from what many people do.

The common thread is an avoidance of living now, or of being in the present moment. Everything we do is distraction of one sort of another. When do most people just sit in quiet contemplation? I think it is absolutely necessary to do this. And I don’t think that includes endless mental chatter directed at some god or other. It means you quiet yourself so you can hear the breeze outside, you notice the sound of water dripping somewhere, a bird chirping, the traffic hum, the shoes on feet walking on the sidewalk outside – that is, your surroundings and how they impact you. If your surroundings include the constant interference of “news”, this is not conducive to a peaceful mind and one that can notice what needs to be taken care of.

We are expert avoiders. As a writer I’ll add that we also don’t need to try to capture every thought. A thought worth capturing will return when it wants to be captured if we forget after the moment passes. Whatever it was, it probably won’t make that much difference anyway, and if it was really good it’s probably already captured in some philosophy book or holy text or whatever. So don’t sweat it!

But I must inevitably reach the conclusion once more that the Internet is more of a pain than it is useful in many ways. Mostly people lack the self-control to impose limits on themselves and they like their comforts. The easiest of comforts is firing up your electronic device of choice and bringing up whatever it is that comforts you. Rather than taking responsibility for your own happiness, you anesthetize yourself with the protective impulse that takes you down familiar and thus comfortable paths.

The Internet: Helping you avoid yourself since 1994 (or thereabouts). While this isn’t directly related to tidying up, it kind of is. It relates the the mentality of clutter and kind of where I started with clearing out the mind clutter. It is hard to tidy one’s life without getting the mental part under control. Half of the game is 50% mental, as Yogi Berra said, and I’ve demonstrated this with the example of smoking cigarettes. The physical aspect is not the hard part of quitting but the mental/habit element. So it is with the Internet. The thing itself isn’t the problem so much as people’s habits that have formed around it, the “fix” they get from it, and the easy rewards it offers along with the illusion of being productive.

Winnowing Your Thoughts

You need to avoid certain things in your train of thought: everything random, everything irrelevant. And certainly everything self-important or malicious. You need to get used to winnowing your thoughts, so that if someone says, “What are your thinking about?” you can respond at once (and truthfully) that you are thinking this or thinking that.

-Marcus Aurelius

Of course, I have written already that it matters what you fill your mind with, but this appeared on one of my feeds and I just had to grab it. The untrained mind will produce an untrained life. Mind training is not easy and probably never perfected, at least for just about everyone, but the benefits are still significant.

The physical act of truly tidying – i.e. discarding first what is unnecessary and burdensome – mirrors the philosopher’s thought quoted above. In fact, I see little difference between the two. They are inextricably intertwined and with some mindfulness, one can beget the other.

What else can I say? I thought it was worth sharing.

The Big Photo Dump

Since I don’t have much “big stuff” left to do now, I have begun the arduous task of going through my digital photos. Those go back to 2004 and there are a LOT of them, many of which are boring, poor quality, and very repetitive. I thought deleting pictures was going to be difficult, but it turns out the difficult part is just the sheer volume of it. It is actually fairly simple to pick out what I want to keep (as opposed to what I want to discard) and then simply disregard and discard the rest. There will still be way more than is really practical for any sort of slide show that doesn’t bore even me to tears, but I estimate that I’m probably discarding at least two thirds.

I also discovered just how disorganized my backup disk was. It’s so bad that I’ll think I’m done with a year’s photos only to find more lurking elsewhere. I have managed to tidy that up, but that is time consuming by itself. At first, I was doing one folder of “the best” pictures and a sort of “B” folder of ones that weren’t necessarily great, but that I wanted to keep for one reason or another. Predictably, that got to be unwieldy, and things were going in the wrong folder and would need to be sorted again, making for a complicated sorting process that made me feel like just deleting the lot and being done with it. Not so good.

So instead of that, I decided to reorganize my method and do folders of two-year increments that would include ALL the pictures I wanted to keep, regardless of reasons or quality. My mistake was trying to organize as I sorted. Again I learn from experience, it doesn’t work, but old habits and all that. Discard first, organize later. It simplifies the task and makes it manageable. This way, I will be able to go through a lot less stuff to pick out the best of the best, the ones I’d like in some sort of album or just an online gallery on their own without the added clutter of the not very good ones but ones I like nonetheless. Another mistake for me is thinking one folder would do. There is no way I can deal with a single folder of pictures that has 6000 images. I also can’t deal with them all mixed up by date and quality. My old pictures were taken on a 3MP camera and even apart from the megapixel quality, my photography has improved over the years of taking so many pictures.

Which leads me to the element of letting go what has served its purpose. All the bad pictures of kids that are not really necessary since I have better ones were part of capturing the good ones as well as learning to do it without having to take quite so many in the first place. I do not need pictures from every single day of my kids’ lives, and neither to they. It took me a full day just to get around 20GB of files off some CDs so I could deal with them more easily. Knowing that CDs are not the most reliable archive, I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time. One of them had a load of stuff I couldn’t access, but I did have a “best of” backup so probably didn’t miss out on much, but it does show that if you do want to keep it, better keep it up to date. Instead of a big case of CDs, it can all fit on an SD memory card or USB stick and multiple backups are simple and cheap. So I thanked the CDs for holding onto my files and let them go.

The point of all this is that if I can do this, I am confident that anyone who wants to can accomplish this task. My precious photos are going into the bin, people! My photographs!! But by doing so, the truly precious ones will be able to be seen and enjoyed, instead of being buried under a mountain of boring stuff that no one wants to deal with. I think the question of what purpose it serves or has served is one to keep in mind. It helps with letting go of things where there is really no purpose in holding onto them. Unless they truly bring you some joy just to have, in which case, they still have a purpose! But most of my pictures are nothing special and I don’t really care about them, as it turns out. I thought this was going to be more emotionally difficult but it really isn’t. There is no way I can do all of it in one go though. There is simply way too much and I get burnt out looking at them so that I need to take a break and come back refreshed. Today I am probably just going to leave it and perhaps I will get back to it tomorrow. Given that from what I’ve read it takes people an average of 6 months to complete the process, I think I have plenty of time to go through my photos. There is no rush, just a will to get it done and see it through to the end, and tidy up once and for all.

Oh, and of course, I will have to reprocess them all, so for those who follow on Instagram, be prepared for old photo spam (but probably not much for a while as I’m only on 2008!)

Hide the Junk: Organizing versus Tidying

Along with the Marie Kondo books, my husband decided to get me a book called “The Complete Book of Home Organization” by Toni Hammersley. I probably wouldn’t have bothered with this one, and as attractive a book as it is, I’m going to say it’s pretty useless. I’d sum it up as “how to organize all that junk for only $40,000!” It is just the sort of “technique” that we’ve all tried and failed at – organizing “zones” and renovating closets (for those who have the money for such things) – yet mysteriously still live in chaos. It doesn’t matter how many attractive rattan baskets you buy for $50 a piece, you won’t get anywhere with this never ending game of “hide the junk” that is like a lifelong game of domestic whack-a-mole. This will have me wanting to make a bonfire of my stuff just to be done with it. Not very enjoyable or useful.

On the other hand, the criticism I’ve seen of the KonMari Method inevitably comes across as negative and defensive, exaggerating to the point of absurdity in an attempt to be funny, and what is known in certain circles as “junkie mentality”. That is, a particular sort of excuse making to avoid dealing with the reality of the emotional/habit basis of an addiction; in this case, the holding onto stuff as either an unhealthy attachment to the past, or fear of the future.

In Zen, the aim is to free one’s self of attachments. It can sound extreme to the western mind as it is applied to everything, including your own children, but it does not mean one becomes indifferent, though it may sound this way on the surface. Kondo’s idea of treating your things as though they were sentient seems to contradict this while at the same time advocating many Zen principles. In Christian terms, it might be seen as making an idol of your stuff. Yet it paradoxically has the opposite effect. When we can’t let things go, we have become overly attached to them. It is the unhealthy clinging sort of attachment. If we have respect for things (and people), we will not cling so hard. Thus, by treating our things with respect, thanking them for their service when we let them go, we do not become indifferent or clingy, but caring and able to let go when it is time.

In one of her books Marie Kondo proposes asking ourselves, when we are finding it hard to decide whether or not to keep something, if our hesitance is due to attachment to the past or fear for the future. When I read that, a light went on. Most of what we hang onto is due to one of these emotions, and identifying it makes it easier to deal with it since we now know why we still have that one item that has traveled the world with us yet we’ve never actually used it (yes, I’m talking to me here). A fear of letting go of the past, or a fear of the future (“I might need it one day!”) keeps us from living now. We live in a physical reality and that physical reality – what we choose to surround ourselves with – reflects our mental, spiritual and emotional reality. The latter can easily become a prison of sorts. Dramatic as it may sound, facing it and dealing with it can be almost like a prison break.

To bring this back around to Hammersley’s book, think about what it represents to hide all your junk and clutter in pretty boxes with labels on them. It may look prettier, but is it actually better than the hoarder with piles of things all over his house? I always think of lines from songs that sum it up in one way or another, and this time I think of a Tom Petty song, “Change of Heart”, in which there is the line, “I’ve stood in your gallery; I’ve seen what’s hanging on the walls.” Ah, the house as a gallery of the mind! The metaphor is true because it is easy to envision.

A life of kitchen islands, massive closets, and endless space for cube shelves with lovely baskets is not how the average person lives. This is not even an option for me and it’s not an option for most people, given all the storage equipment and renovations needed. It is much simpler (and cheaper) to use what you have and discard what doesn’t spark joy. One might wonder at the idea of hiring a consultant to help tidy up, but the cost of this is a lot less than the cost of storage and constant acquisition. I think in the long run and even in the short run, if someone is really struggling with this, it is most cost effective to hire professional help. Most people have probably already spent more on storage bins alone. Only you can stop the madness! 😉

The space we have is well below the average and I believe this gives me the opportunity to learn how to live with less and how to make storage as efficient as possible, which I find satisfying in and of itself. It is imperative in a small space to get the clutter under control. A lot of little annoyances can add up quickly if there is nowhere to retreat to. I used to think the idea of a place for everything and everything in its place was too uptight and silly, but without the daily annoyance of sifting through a too full drawer looking for a vegetable peeler or a clothes drawer that is so stuffed it won’t close properly, one inevitably becomes less uptight.

If you have the appearance of tidy but all you’ve done is hide your clutter, the clutter is still there and having its effect. You know it’s there, and every time you open a cupboard you have to look at it. If you have closets like the ones pictured in Hammersley’s book yet still have to, as she suggests you do, stow away seasonal clothes and swap them out twice a year, you definitely have way too much stuff.

While I’m not down to what qualifies as a “capsule wardrobe” with around 50 separate items of clothing (exclusive of underwear, shoes and socks) that I have out, and probably around 20 to 30 or so in bins (mostly sweaters and winter wear like turtlenecks – I live in Minnesota), this feels like a good amount for me and I will probably whittle it down some more as I wear things and realize I don’t like them as much as I thought. It does feel better even though it’s all out of sight. “Out of sight out of mind” is a fallacy, and one that is embraced wholeheartedly in Toni Hammersley’s book and rejected outright by Marie Kondo. I know which philosophy I prefer.

Yet, I must acknowledge that Hammersley’s very pretty book has not been totally useless, as I would not have written this post or given as much thought to organizing versus tidying. Once we have tidied, organizing becomes a less daunting task, which is why Kondo advocates for discarding first, organizing second. I made the mistake of trying to organize as I tidied and it’s just too much work and I painted myself into a corner. It is really that much worse to try to organize without the crucial first step of discarding.

Hitting the Restart Button

Now that I have finished reading both “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and “Spark Joy”, I am reassessing my method, which hitherto has been somewhat haphazard and, while having elements of the correct way to do it, the truth is that it is incorrect. This does not mean the last month was wasted effort. This is a point at which I could easily become discouraged, but instead I have decided to hit the restart button and not worry about it. In fact, I am glad, because I am not even close to the “click point”, as Marie Kondo calls it (and I’m pretty sure I grasp her meaning), and in truth I was beginning to feel backed into a corner. Now I have escaped the oppressive corner!

I can see why people would give up, but I can see the mistakes I’ve made that would cause me to give up (again). First of all, I have been trying to tidy everything. My categories have been a bit fast and loose, nothing has been gathered all at once, and I have been trying to help everyone else do theirs as I go. BIG mistake. There is a lot of hypocrisy in doing that, because one inevitably accuses others of one’s own faults and foibles. Ouch.

So tomorrow I’ll be starting with only my own things, by category, in the proper order. I have brought out my bins of clothes already to pull out once again, this time armed with the right questions to ask myself. I say the proper order because it makes complete sense to me. I had already been going in at least somewhat the right direction before I read that there was a correct order, and a lot of what I read confirmed things for me that helped give me the confidence to do this at all, as well as the confidence not to be defeated because I goofed up a bit. In the past, I probably would have felt a little silly and given up before making a bigger fool of myself. Well, that’s not a very useful way to live one’s life.

It must be said that my husband has been very supportive. It might not even seem like he’s done much, and it would be extremely easy to overlook, but if I’m really honest with myself, I doubt I would have even bought the books for myself, much less embarked on a “tidying festival” of such magnitude. But I do enjoy a challenge. I mentioned it thinking it might be a bit silly – or taking that defensive stance to avoid the sting of someone else telling me it’s silly – but instead my husband told me it was a good idea! And now he has created a monster.

In all seriousness though, I can’t even tell you how many times in my life I’ve wished I could just burn all my stuff and sleep on a mat on the floor. I think I’ve always been a minimalist at heart but just didn’t know how to get there. It’s possible that somehow all the moving I’ve done has been symptomatic, and an “excuse” to get rid of stuff. My family moved quite a lot when I was a child too, so it is also perhaps a habit picked up there, and perhaps this is where my anxiety over stuff comes from – the idea looming in the background of having to pack it all up and move it. I know that anxiety is there even when I’m not planning any imminent move because everywhere I’ve lived in my adult life has been temporary from the start.

I get very overwhelmed by too much stuff and in spite of pretty regular purging of stuff, there always seemed to be no end to it. I am probably what is known as a “highly sensitive person” but I wonder if we aren’t all like this in reality, but some are just more attuned to it, or perhaps a better way to say it is that the general “noise” of life is louder for some people. What started it though is that we want to move sometime sooner rather than later, and I figured since I have the time, I’d do some of the preparation work for that now. Over time thinking about it, I also realize that most of the stress associated with moving is dealing with all the stuff. I understand some people seem to enjoy having a lot of stuff and truly, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. That is up to them to decide. I believe that most people appreciate tidiness, no matter the amount of stuff, and that some people are unwilling to confront themselves. I think in the latter case it is a loss to themselves.

There are quite a few reasons both profound and mundane for doing this. Most of these are discussed in Kondo’s books, but I admit that I got more out of “Spark Joy” than I did out of “The Life Changing Magic”. The former is the second of the two books and has more practical information on the KonMari Method, which is really what I am more interested in over all, since I can come up with all the spiritual mumbo jumbo myself.

I jest a little, but there is a Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood. After enlightenment, chop wood.” I hope this is self-explanatory! We need to balance the practical and the emotional, and I find this system does this well. No matter how silly you might feel thanking your old underwear for having been of service to you, I think it is not a bad practice. When discarding things that are not worn out, it makes it easier to let it go. It is that dreaded “closure” people seek and often don’t find I think. Rather than hashing it all out yet again, just thank the thing or the person for whatever it was they did for you and then move on. Gratitude is better than bitterness and regret.

It is true that through actually tidying you must confront yourself and the past. It might be emotional, but in the end it clears a path. Of this I am confident though I am not there yet. The hints are showing, and I like what I see.

Clearing the Mind Clutter

This post is a revamp of an older one. As I ate my lunch a couple of days ago, I was visited by a horrific recollection of that Bill Nye bit known as “My Sex Junk”. Well, it does at least tell you it’s junk, but while I wish I could unsee it, I can’t. I can only forget about it if I’m lucky.

This is a form of mental clutter. A few months ago I decided I’d had enough of “news” and since then I more or less only know about what other people tell me about and mostly avoid allowing it into my mind. As with the aforementioned horror show, if I do look it tends to be after several people have mentioned it. The first couple of mentions at least are generally ignored.

I also decided that I wanted to make my online access somewhat less conducive to my usual habits and didn’t want to be chained to my computer to do anything online. I decided I wanted to get a used smartphone to use as a mini-tablet, as I didn’t want a big tablet because it’s awkward to use the camera and just generally I don’t care for them, the old Kindle Fire is kind of useless really, and we didn’t already have any smartphones. Eventually we changed phone plans for one that is less than half the cost of the previous one and bought an inexpensive phone that I use as a mini-tablet.

Now that I’ve made a short story long, I have changed my internet habits quite a bit, which actually may have been the first act in this particular round of serious decluttering. (Like I said, it’s hard to pinpoint the beginning). When mind is cluttered, it is more difficult to take care of the physical environment.

I don’t think anyone can really process so much information day after day. It makes me wonder if the constant flow of useless information isn’t a huge part of our problems in the current age. This is a form of “future shock”, in which the environment changes faster than our ability to adapt to it. We may compensate, but it always feels like damage control more than real adaptation.

I believe that too much “news” is bad for your health – and not just your mental health, but certainly that too. I don’t think the current proliferation of mental disturbance and physical ailment is solely environmental, but that a lot of it is enviro-mental – that is, the mental environment in which one chooses to immerse one’s self. It is well known that the mind affects the body – even to the point where happier people feel less physical pain – thus it stands to reason that if the majority of what you consume daily is doom and gloom, perversity, and otherwise depressing and ugly, you are not going to make yourself happy and your body will shut down along with your mind.

Depressed people won’t get up and do what needs to be done and so stay in a mindless state of slavery. Half the game is fifty percent mental, as Yogi Berra said. You can “eat clean” all you like and that’s great, but thinking clean is at least as important. It is one thing to keep up on current events to an extent, but day by day not much changes and there’s only so many times one needs to hear about the revolting behavior of the so-called elite and celebrity.

The worst part of following all this stuff (more stuff!) is not only is it unedifying and adds no value to your life, it sucks beauty out and replaces it with ugliness and distortion. It sucks the life out of the people who consume it. It is a parasite and a blight.

There is always a time to take back your own mind. You have the power in your own hands to banish the garbage. The act of decluttering your mind may the the most important, and decluttering your physical life is a piece in the larger puzzle. It matters what you fill your mind with. If it is not useful or beautiful, what purpose does it serve? What if the ultimate counter-revolutionary act is taking control of your own mind and environment? In other words, what if it is possible to free yourself from the chains of the consumerist culture that have been imposed upon you?

The Absurdity of the Public Storage Industry

One good reason for having a good clear out is space. Most people have too much “stuff” and, so they believe, not enough space. As the average house size has increased, so has consumption. Anywhere there is space, it gets filled. But to what end? How much do we actually use and how much is it more of a burden to hold onto it than it is to get rid of it?

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the proliferation in more recent decades of public storage. Now we not only fill our homes and garages with mounds and mounds of stuff, we pay to rent a space for our stuff! Often, it is thought this will be temporary, but it isn’t long until enough time goes by that you’ve paid more to store the stuff than it’s worth. At this point we have truly become slaves to our stuff, working to house things we don’t need, want, or ultimately really care about.

Part of my story with stuff now is my husband’s stuff. For myself, I have moved so often I’ve been forced to pare down my stuff a fair bit, though it seems to mate and reproduce in the dark somehow. My husband, on the other hand, has not really had to do this. He had his stuff in storage for almost a decade. When we moved recently and bought a storage container (our current housing is very small), we moved his stuff into that along with other stuff that we don’t have space for right now. I have been going through a lot of it and filled the small dumpster a couple of times and we’ve taken several loads to the second hand shop. We have even sold a few things on eBay.

The point is, much of what he had stored was either junk in the first place or had become outdated in one way or another. It would have been better to have got rid of it sooner than spend close to $5K on storing garbage.

There is a sense of clinging with all this hoarding of things. Everything you buy is destined to become garbage, so it’s best to think of it as garbage from the start. Is this something you really need, or simply more future garbage to junk up your life (and the planet) with? Are you merely a consumer, or a mindful inhabitant of the earth?

I think the recent fascination with minimalism is a reaction to this over consumption. People are feeling bloated and over full as any form of gluttony leads to this feeling. While we do not need to go full on minimalist, I think it comes as a kind of relief, like a temporary fast that allows one to come back to the table refreshed, rather than still bloated from the last feast. As a habitual practice, this helps to keep the mind clear and to guard against excess. It isn’t hard to see the application to consumerism as a form of gluttony. The storage unit that serves no other purpose than to hold onto “stuff” is the ever expanding waistline of the glutton. The overflow of stuff has nowhere to go but in some expansion or other.

My husband was (understandably) a little apprehensive at first. It can be difficult enough to let things go, but more so to allow someone else to make those decisions. But as I went through, getting rid of obvious garbage (old bank statements from bank accounts that no longer exist, for example) and making piles of things for him to go through himself, thereby making the job easier for him, I think I can say he started to enjoy the process. I do believe that things can begin to act as an albatross around one’s neck, and that casting it off is a relief. Some burdens are unknown until they are lifted. You never know what physical symptoms might be due to some spiritual burden.

It may sound far-fetched, but if enough people decided to stop being consumer-slaves, to become mindful of what they gather into their lives, and not to bring in so much junk, perhaps people would be less selfish, less greedy, and more peaceful and empathetic. If “the wages of sin is death”, then it would also be true that “the wages of virtue is life”. It is always better to be mindful than to be mindless, whether with regard to ‘big’ things or ‘small’ things. A cliché it may be, but true nonetheless; a giant oak from a small acorn grows.