The Trauma that Triggered the Big Purge, and the Weird Intention I Set

I’ve been touched by many traumas in my life. In addition to major traumas there have been the usual ups and downs. At this point I have a lot of tools for coming back into balance after upsets. And I’ve written about how my relationship to both money and possessions has been a piece of work for my life. Trying to replace a poverty mentality with an abundance mentality has been going on in the background pretty much my entire life. The only time I haven’t been burdened by possessions is when I was super poor, when I lived out of a backpack, or when I moved to a foreign country with one suitcase.

So why did one particular trauma around stuff set things in motion in a unique and unanticipated way? What was the trauma that amplified my issues so intensely?

In March of 2017 my mom fell. She felt dizzy, lost her balance, and wasn’t strong enough to grab the kitchen counter and stop herself from falling. She went to the hospital. My dad was left on his own for the first time since their marriage in 1954. While mom was gone, dad confided it was all too much – mom’s decline in health, the upkeep on   house, yard, and garden.

To cut out a lot of detail, mom never came back to her home she and my dad owned for 60 years. Dad moved out of the house and into an apartment in an independent senior living facility while mom was in rehab. Mom moved to that apartment when she left rehab. During this time my sister and I were juggling mom in rehab with her health issues, with helping dad find a place, get moved and settled, setting that space up for mom, plus the monumental task of dealing with their house. They knew they weren’t coming back. They wanted the house sold. We were left to empty the house of it 60-year accumulation (very little went with them to their small one-bedroom apartment), do a ton of maintenance that had been neglected over the years, then complete the sale of the house.

If I could go back and do it all over, there are so many things I would do differently. As often happens with families, the process ruined the good relationship my sister and I enjoyed for most of our adult lives. There was too much history in the house we grew up in. Our pace was different, our approach was different, the demands on the rest of our lives were different, the travel time to get to my parent’s old house and their current locations was different, our sentimental attachment to the house and what was in it was different. She wanted to go through everything and choose things for her adult kids, my daughter was in high school, still living at home and had fewer memories with my parents’ home.

On top of this, mom and dad were trying to dictate the process while not getting involved in the work. Dad chose what he wanted to take in the move. Mom told us as best she could what she wanted moved, but honestly her main concern at that time was getting back on her feet.

I felt a push to complete the process while home sales are robust during the spring and summer selling season. I didn’t want the house to sit empty into fall and winter. Nor did I want to spend every minute of the next six months dealing with my parent’s stuff. I simmered with resentment because I’d asked mom over and over to let me help her get started with figuring out what should happen with all the stuff stored in their house and garage. Her response was always, “It’s not time to do it; we don’t have to get started with that yet.” Or the one that triggered me the most, “I’m not going to worry about it. I’ll be dead and it’ll be someone else’s problem.” I chafed at the disregard her attitude showed for my sister and me. Who did she think would get stuck doing it? Did she think we’d be happy to put our own lives on hold to take on that task?

And of course, mom wasn’t dead. She was weak and frail in body, and as sharp and strong-willed as ever in mind. Mom and dad were not hoarders by any definition; they just had a lot of stuff from living in one place so long. And they didn’t deal with stuff that came to them from their losses (of their parents and my brother).

I could go on and on about the upsets, struggles and emotional baggage that came up. About the physical and mental and emotional exhaustion our families experienced. Suffice it to say that any amount of dysfunction in a family is magnified during this process. And it brought up the shame of my own failed attempts to deal with my own accumulation. Now I was horrified at being on the receiving end of more.

Here is the weird intention that resulted because I told myself, “I am never going to put the people I love in the position of having to deal with a lifetime of my stuff because I didn’t bother.” So I set the intention: When I either downsize or move, an estate sale person can come into my house and the only thing they will need to do is walk around putting price tags on things. That means no rooms crammed floor to ceiling with boxes of random stuff, no trash to remove, no drawers piled full, nothing funky/dusty/smelly from disuse, nothing that’s lost its value from how it was stored, no unlabeled boxes, minimal storage boxes and bins, etc.

Mom, like all of us, was attached to the perceived value of her lifetime accumulation. She really wanted an estate sale. The problem with that was that estate sale people are booked out for months during the summer. And at any time of year, they do not want to take on a job where everything is in boxes piled on top of each other and piled in front of things because they can’t look around and see what they can sell and if it is worth their time. There was certainly interesting stuff in the house, but the main value is in furniture, and if you are staging the house to sell the stagers want some of the furniture to stay for staging. But all the stuff has to move out before the painters and floor finishers can get in and do their thing. The logistics get complicated. Estate sale people and all the contractors, and the real estate agent are busy and have existing commitments to schedule around. To mom’s dismay, an estate sale wouldn’t happen.

So what it came down to was that after working our asses off for months, everyone was unhappy – it had gone too fast, it had gone to slow, where did such and such an item end up (God only knows), why didn’t we sell such and such an item, she wanted ___ to go to ___ but no one could figure out whose garage it landed in or whether it had been inadvertently donated. I have a bad feeling there was a mix-up, and one pile I made for donation went to the dump, and one pile I made of stuff to keep was donated. I wanted to offer things like yard tools to the new buyer (I knew through the agent it was their first home) and my sister was adamant about not giving them anything. I never figured out why she felt angry toward the family that bought the house (with a full price offer) my parents wanted to sell. She preferred the extra work of hauling the stuff to Habitat for Humanity ReStore. There was a lot of misdirected anger in the process. I’m sure she questioned things I said or did. It is hard to deal with an entire house full of stuff when you’re grieving. Even though my parents were still both living, things would never be the same.

Don’t even get me started on paperwork. I would love to have the hours of my life back I have spent in frustrating searches through boxes and file cabinets trying to find important financial documents.

Suffice it to say, by the time it was all over, we had all lost our minds.

Which brings me back to my intention:

When I either downsize or move, an estate sale person can come into my house and the only thing they will need to do is walk around putting price tags on things.

This creates a certain picture in my mind of a manageable amount of stuff that’s well organized and well maintained. I don’t care if there is an estate sale for my stuff or not. But if there isn’t one, it won’t be because no estate sale company would take it on. I’d be happy for my family and friends to help themselves to anything they want to have, with no pressure and no obligation to be on the receiving end. Things of sentimental value will be marked as such, and my family can decide if an item has sentimental value to anyone but me; they have my permission to immediately trash, donate, or recycle my sentimental items. My experience has given me the perspective of putting people & relationships before possessions. I never ever want to damage relationships because of possessions. I never want to burden my own daughter, and that gives me the resolve to keep working on this issue for as long as it takes.

A book I was gifted after I’d been through this experience with my parents is The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson. I recommend it if you’re dealing with this issue.

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Missing October Soup Nights and So Much More

Here’s what’s on a yard sign in my neighborhood.

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Do we really want a return to normal? Isn’t it time we build something BETTER?

Totally agree with that. Yet I do miss parts of my pre-2020 life, and it does feel like it takes more effort to stay positive than it has in the past.

Big social events, parties and potlucks were never a huge part of my life. But October Soup Nights, when neighbors from our block gather every Sunday in October to share soup and catch up after the busy summer season, are greatly missed.

If we’ve learned anything in the past months it’s that life is short, and can change in ways we never imagined, faster than we dreamed possible. In order to maintain happiness I’ve had to be very intentional about doing things that increase rather than deplete my energy, and improve my sense of well being, and add joy and meaning to my life.

I keep this quote in mind.

“Sometimes just one small project can help right the ship.”–Bobby Berk, on Queer Eye

So when I get up in the morning feeling a sense of doom and despair, I might be able to right the ship by making the bed, taking a shower, starting a load of laundry and eating a healthy breakfast. Might. That will only work if I can summon the will force to do any of those things.

But if the funk persists, I keep a handy reminder of small things I can do – the small day-to-day things that make me smile and spark some joy (and don’t cost money). These things can break the day-to-day monotony and shake the malaise that comes from having no parties or travel adventures to look forward to.

Connecting

Time with my daughter, husband, and pup.

Picnic lunch outside with friends.

Reach out to catch up with a friend.

Creating

Getting an inspired idea for a new project.

The excitement/enthusiasm/energy of starting a new project.

The flow from engaging in the work of a project.

The sense of satisfaction in completing a project.

Taking a good photograph.

Putting together a new playlist.

Taking online art and writing classes.

Creating a photo collage/inspiration board.

Seasonal decorating.

Take an extravagant ball of yarn out of the stash and make it into something beautiful. Ditto with fabric.

Time Outside

Taking a walk to look for unicorns/dinosaurs/gnomes/dragons/Buddha statues.

Walking with my camera.

Noticing sunsets, clear blue sky, flowers, trees, plants, and the change of seasons.

Weeding the garden.

Simply sitting outside or opening a window when I don’t have energy for more.

Doing something nice for myself

Laughing at late-night TV.

Wearing something I’ve made.

Wearing something gifted to me by my daughter.

Using something made for me (thank you Ralph for my new desk),

Shop my house and redecorate (which is just moving furniture and accessories from one room to another for a fresh perspective).

Fresh flowers.

Movement – all types – dance, walk, exercise.

Doing something nice for somebody else

Leaving a generous tip on take-out.

Donate.

Reach out to check in with a friend

Share something fun with a friend.

Cleaning

Clean absolutely any room or space in my house.

Feng Shui/Marie Kondo the crap out of something (closet/drawer/shelf/bookshelf/mantle/coffee table/desk top, room, etc.).

Rest/Relax/Rejuvenate/Indulgent Pleasures

Chocolate truffles.

5-minute journaling.

Watch YouTube videos on thrift store decorating,

Queer Eye episodes.

Marionberry pie.

Home-baked bread.

Take a nap.

Read.

When I’m trapped in my head with nothing good rattling around in there, I check my list and try a couple of things to reverse the depression before it really gets a grip.

And maybe I should also share what doesn’t work. I have tried these. These do not work. These are all a bog of quicksand that will suck me down and keep me struggling to breathe.

Skipping bathing for an extended period. Emotional spirals. Stress eating or drinking. Boredom eating or drinking. Isolation. Apathy. Rage. Hopelessness. Seeing only the dark and despairing side of things. Never leaving the house. A perspective devoid of gratitude. Nonstop news. Avoiding what needs to be done. Perseverating on things I can’t change.

Change is tough. It’s a struggle to maintain balance in the midst of it. Yet, I absolutely embrace the need for change. Current social structures built on greed, inequity, exclusivity, and disrespect for nature – these have to break down for something better to emerge. It may be a painful process, but I chose to be here for this time.

One last tool I use is this quote.

“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly despairing, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”–Agatha Christie

Take care of yourself and find something in life to enjoy as we journey through the last months of 2020.

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Finding Peace of Mind in My Own Home – Lessons Learned

The crazier the world gets, the more I need my home to be a place of peace and sanctuary.

I have a very troubled relationship with my possessions. I have read many, many books and articles in my attempts to deal with my chronic clutter and disorganization. It has been a long journey to rewire my brain’s deeply ingrained poverty mentality. I’ve studied organizing, Feng Shui, decorating, cleaning, arranging. I have learned that clutter clearing, cleaning, and organizing are distinctly different things although they tend to overlap in my brain when I look at a space and think “what a mess, I need to clean this up”.

I have spent endless and exhausting hours in binges of sorting through possessions to clear a space of clutter (for example, the unfinished storage area in my basement). I’ve congratulated myself for my efforts, felt a happy sigh of relief, then felt despair and hopelessness when the space filled up with new clutter in a matter of days or weeks. That’s when I really lose my mind.

I’ve had difficult conversations with my husband around stuff (both his and mine), which we resolved by agreeing certain parts of the house cannot have clutter (I need to be able to lay my head down and sleep in peace, so no clutter in the bedroom). But other rooms are our individual clutter zones the other one isn’t allowed to touch. We both get inspired to deal with our individual spaces on occasion, but have no success inspiring the other one to clean out their untouchable zone. We both agree we love it when the clutter is gone and the space is clean and organized, but we both dread the time and energy and decisions the work requires.

Speaking of decisions, here are some questions I have learned to ask when I am sorting and purging possessions.

Do I need it?

Do I love it?

Do I take care of it?

Do I value the story it tells?

Does it have positive associations?

Can I find it when I need it?

Is it a duplicate?

Do I use it, or is it just one more thing I have to keep moving out of the way?

Does it fit into the life I have now?

Is it part of the future I’m envisioning?

Is it helping or hindering me in living my best life?

Is it beautiful?

Does it spark joy?

Is something I use, and enjoy using?

Does it anchor me to the past or does it contribute to the life I want to create now?

Is it usable in the current state it’s in?

Is it adding value to my life?

Would I buy it again today?

Does it block energy? Does it create stagnant, dead energy?

Would it be better off in someone else’s hands?

Is it past its expiration date?

Do I have room for it – does it fit inside the container space I have (drawer, shelf, house)?

Is it valuable enough to take up my time and energy?

Does it have a home (a logical place where it is put away when not in use)?

Do I have it simply because I’m downstream from someone who didn’t want it and I couldn’t say “no”?

Did I get it on impulse, or because it was “a great bargain”?

Am I keeping it because of how much I spent when I bought it, despite not using it?

Am I keeping it because I’m an indecisive, lazy procrastinator or because I genuinely want it in my life?

Just reading that list is exhausting. It’s best to focus on a few questions that are at the heart of why there is an overwhelming amount of stuff. What are the deeper issues behind accumulating and hanging onto more than enough stuff?

For me, one of the hardest parts of clutter clearing is the volume of decisions required. I’m a Libra; I weigh the pros and cons. I am naturally indecisive because I can always make an argument for either side. Papers are the worst for me because one stack can require hundreds of decisions. Sometimes I put mail in a box, and when I get to it a year later it’s a relief that almost everything is outdated and the decisions I put off by not dealing with it at the time have been made through inaction. That’s no way to deal with mail, but there it is.

Ditto with stacks of photos. So Many Decisions. Ditto my online storage – now I have electronic clutter that takes time and energy to deal with. So much time I could be doing something more fun. The real regret in dealing with this issue year in and year out is the time of my life I’ll never get back. I make myself feel better by telling myself this issue is part of my spiritual evolution; like any persistent issue, there is something it is teaching me. (So far, that boils down to unlearning a poverty and lack mentality.)

On a practical, rather than spiritual, level here are a few things I have learned on this journey…

It is easier to clean a house where things have a home where they belong and clutter has been cleared. This is obvious to most people, but I didn’t figure it out until I realized I spent more hours getting ready for the house cleaner to come than it took her to clean. My frantic efforts straightening things up and trying to figure out where things would be out of the way were just a part of having the housecleaner come. After she came, my entire house would be clean at one time (wonderful and exciting) and then it would immediately start to devolve so by the next day it was already going back to its natural state (depressing and dispiriting). It wasn’t until I cleaned my own house that I got some routines going to keep up with basic tidying and cleaning every day.

There really is such a thing as “stagnant energy”. Blocked energy is a massive drain on my personal energy level, creativity, and peace of mind. A mess constantly nags my brain to the point I can’t relax and enjoy life. I love going out of town because I immediately relax in a hotel room (so clean and uncluttered). No “to do” list of cleaning and organizing is calling for my attention. I have friends who easily tune those projects out, who are creative and productive despite their clutter, but I must have at least one room with no mess or I can’t relax.

Certain decorating styles are easier to clean. Minimalist, mid-century modern, and Scandinavian tend to be less busy than Country, Victorian, Bohemian. I go for an eclectic style so I have some of everything – rustic and polished, vintage and new, various eras. I incorporate what’s appealing, comfortable, beautiful, interesting to me. I like things that tell my story — things from my travels, or made by me and my family. I know next to nothing about decorating, but I do notice the trend toward streamlining and simplifying no matter what you label your design style. And, use one big accessory instead of a lot of little accessories if you want your space easier to clean and maintain.

Upsizing or downsizing the space doesn’t help. It’s a state of mind and habits of behavior that create clear space. I’ve lived in a sleeper apartment that didn’t have a kitchen or a bathroom and I’ve lived in a 3,400 square foot house that had huge rooms, and lots of them. The 200 square foot sleeper was faster to clean, and the big dream house had more space for things to store neatly or spread out and breathe, but space didn’t cure the issue. Any dwelling (house, apartment, camper or tent) defines the size of container you have for your stuff. Clever organizing and storage solutions only go so far.

Some hobbies and interests have less stuff, therefore less mess. I’m not willing to change who I am or how I like to spend my time. I just want a clean house so I can feel the freedom to spend time on creative pursuits without feeling guilty. But in general, hiking, reading and knitting are less messy than sewing, painting, and woodworking. There are people with beautiful and well-organized sewing rooms and woodworking shops, so that’s not really an excuse. And there are readers whose books and papers clutter every horizontal surface including the floor. And knitters overrun by their yarn stash. So saying it’s because of my hobbies is an oversimplification. Some manage the mess by reducing the number of interests, but I’m not going to do that. What I am willing to do is organize and declutter supplies so that when I have an idea I can put my hands on the tools and materials quickly enough that I don’t lose the energy to make it.

I’ve tried every approach there is – dealing with everything in one category (clothes, papers, etc.), dealing with one room at a time (empty it and only put back what you love and what serves the purpose of the space), doing it bit-by-bit in small time increments (15 minutes to clutter clear then clean and organize one drawer or closet), putting things in containers (more containers is more stuff, so don’t buy pretty containers for things you don’t need to keep in the first place, but in some spaces containers can make a huge difference), dealing with what you see first (quick results is motivating), working from the inside out (pulling everything out makes the mess worse before it is better, but is more rewarding then jamming all the clutter into spaces other people don’t see – but only do this if you have time to finish the project).

Sentimentality will bog you down. I’ve got nothing for you on this, other than to say commit to the future you want to create and eliminate things that will hold you back from moving forward with your dreams. And if you don’t use it, appreciate it, or give it a place of honor by proudly displaying it, then why keep it?

It is good to take before and after pictures on these projects. I often fail to celebrate progress and acknowledge the work I’ve done. My tendency is to see what still needs doing rather than what I accomplished.

It is possible to rewire the brain and form new habits. I had to learn things that are obvious to other people – instead of setting something down, put it back where it belongs, put the dirty dish into the dishwasher right away, make the bed every morning, recycle junk mail right when it comes into the house, create a daily/weekly/seasonal schedule for cleaning.

Don’t be afraid to get radical. Most people add storage when they remodel a kitchen. Instead, we took out all the upper cabinets and changed lower cabinets to drawers. We had to purge a few things, but everything has a specific home, a lot of countertop stuff went out of sight, and the drawers make better use of space because you can easily get to stuff in the back. It felt like we doubled the storage; I love it! Ditto with swapping out my desk to one half as big. I was so frustrated by the clutter that accumulated on my desktop and with less space it is less of a problem. My smaller desk is more useful.

Every little success builds on itself. One closet, one table top, one drawer getting cleaned and organized can be so gratifying that it inspires the next project.

I’m way too controlling to let someone come into my house and do if for me. When I see shows along that theme it is fun to imagine the results without the work, and super fun to imagine being done with a huge project in 2-3 days. But with the room and house makeovers, I always ask myself where did all their stuff go, and did the owner of the space learn anything that’ll keep it from reverting to a mess? Professional help and support to get through a project makes sense, having someone organize my stuff in a way that’s not logical for me (therefore I can’t find it) isn’t helpful.

Keep it real. I see some photos and articles where my immediate reaction is “no one lives like that”. My goal isn’t a pristine and sterile environment. I want my home to have life and energy. I’m not giving up my kid, my dog, or my partner no matter how big a mess they make. I want a house that’s well loved and lived in. Be clear on your goal.

I may not give up my partner or my kid, but everyone in the household needs to participate in keeping things tidy. Everyone needs to be considerate with shared spaces. No one should be the full time maid for everyone else.

Extroverts have an easier time keeping a nice house than introverts. Extroverts naturally care more about how things look. Introverts care more about ideas, more about what’s in their head than in their environment. You are who you are. Accept it and do your best.

Don’t do what won’t work. Organizing nail polish in rainbow order makes sense to me. But I’m never going to organize my books in rainbow order. It might look pretty, but I shelve books by subject so I can find the book I want when I want it. I don’t want to have to remember the color of the cover to put my hands on a book.

You’ll get more done treating yourself with kindness and compassion than by beating yourself up and shaming and bullying yourself to do it.

I hope I’ve shared some wisdom you can use on your journey to finding peace of mind in your own home. I offer my best wishes for your journey to find the perfect Zen vibe that keeps you calm and happy.

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How Not To Be a Hoarder

(Written Spring of 2020)

Nothing like watching an episode of Hoarders to get me cracking on cleaning my house and finishing up those projects started back in January 2019 when Marie Kondo came out with her series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. “Tidying up” is such a sweet and innocuous phrase for tearing into a mountain of stuff.

No doubt I was drawn to both shows because I have issues in my relationship with my possessions. While I am not a hoarder (in diagnosable mental illness terms), I did recognize glimmers of my own thinking and behavior as I watched both series. Based on the popularity of books and reality shows devoted to the topic of too much stuff, plenty of us have a dysfunctional relationship with our possessions. There’s a full spectrum, ranging from clutter to compulsive hoarding – people a bit off the path, to deep in the weeds, to off the hoarding cliff.

To not become a hoarder: have a good childhood, never live in poverty or deprivation, don’t experience trauma and addiction, process all your feelings in a healthy way as you have them (rather than bury your feelings), and of course, have a lot of loving and supportive people who respectfully and compassionately help you if your possessions start to overrun your life. Also, don’t be downstream from people who don’t deal with their own stuff (kids who move out, parents forced to downsize).

If it’s too late for that, I’ve summarized a list of takeaways from Hoarders. Pretty much everything on the “don’t do” list I have done – picked up free stuff and brought it home, set a piece of garbage down instead of put it straight into the trash, purchased things I had no use for when thrift shopping, kept things I thought I could sell to make money, moved things to the garage or attic instead of moving them out of the house, failed to get rid of something I didn’t like or use because of how much it cost when I bought it, kept something given to me because the giver had outgrown their use for it (other people’s clutter!). When I feel bad about my past missteps, I try to remember…

“The butterfly does not look back at the caterpillar in shame, just as you should not look back at your past in shame. Your past was part of your own transformation.”– Anthony Gucciardi

With compassion for the pain represented by trying to fill a void with stuff, and with no shaming or judgment, here is the summary of dos and don’ts I learned from Hoarders

Do not drive around with a pickup truck grabbing other people’s free items from the sidewalk.

Do not go to garage sales, thrift stores, rummage sales, flea markets, or estate sales. If you must go, don’t buy things because they are a “great buy” or “someone could use it” or “I could fix that up and sell it”. If you are not the person that can use it, or it is not usable in the state it’s in, leave it.

Do not rent storage space or warehouse space. Do not build barns and outbuildings purely to store the overflow from your house. Do not buy a second house because your current home has too much stuff to live in comfortably. A second house is not the answer to too much stuff.

Do not allow stuff from your house to overflow into the yard. The yard shouldn’t be home to abandoned items you no longer use, especially big stuff like furniture, appliances, cars, boats, tractors and trailers. Those things can have value as a donation, as scrap metal, etc. but only if you donate in a timely manner. Once it is ruined from exposure to the elements it has no value. Likewise, things in outbuildings, unfinished basements, garages, and attics are often ruined from moisture, temperature extremes, or pests.

Do not call it a business if there is more stuff coming in than going out. If you are accumulating new things, or hanging onto old things, because they are “valuable” and you plan to sell them on Craig’s List or eBay, what’s your time frame on that? People do make businesses out of reselling and up cycling, but for those people stuff moves in and out. If stuff is accumulating, it is not a business (at least not a successful one).

Do not refer to a bunch of random, dust-covered stuff as a “collection” – a collection is a group of items that have something in common, have a place of honor in your life, are valued and well cared for, and are either stored well or displayed with pride. Be aware that any collecting is a slippery slope.

Do not equate the volume of stuff you own with security – keeping an old car in case you might need a spare part won’t make your life more secure in a meaningful way. If you want security, keep an emergency fund of money in the bank.

Do not ruin a relationship by putting things above people. If someone you love is threatening to move out or divorce you, if friends are not visiting because they’re so uncomfortable in your home, then it is time to reverse priorities. It’s a classic sign of addiction when your most important relationship is with your drug of choice (be it alcohol & drugs, sex, gambling, or compulsive buying/accumulating). Don’t make partners and children feel less important than your stuff by giving them less time, space, interest, and attention.

Do panic at the first sign of cockroaches, mice, rats, flies, mold, dry rot, or water on walls or ceilings. This is not normal. Any of these require immediate attention. If you are not dealing with pest or mold issues because stuff in the way, and there is no place to temporarily move the stuff, then you’ve got too much stuff.

Do keep your car cleaned out; if it looks like someone lives in it you know things have gone too far. The bigger the vehicle, the more imperative this is.

Do immediately put trash items into the garbage. Have garbage picked up and removed on a regular basis.

Do clean out the refrigerator on a regular basis. Use items out of the pantry by their “best by” date and toss when past that date. If you’re not going to use a non-perishable food item, donate it to the food bank prior to the expiration date. Put a date on food packages that go into the freezer and use within 6-12 months.

Do keep the volume of stuff accumulating for hobbies and crafts manageable. If you spend more time shopping for the stuff to do something than you spend actually doing it – that’s a red flag. If you spend so much time searching your house for all the various supplies you need for a project that you never actually have time to do the project, that’s also a red flag.

Do have a limit on the amount of stuff in storage bins. Buying more bins to corral more and more stuff isn’t helpful if the stuff goes in and never comes out to be used or enjoyed. Storing sentimental items makes sense, within limits of your available space. You can always take photos of sentimental items before parting with them.

Do keep your beloved possessions pared down enough that you’re able to clean house. If you can’t find the floor to vacuum, or find the counter top to clean it, then you’re hanging onto too much stuff.

Do keep things off the floor so that your possessions are not underfoot causing you to trip or fall. A fall is a game-changer for health and independence.

Clearly all these points are obvious to someone who is a neatnik, and to people who don’t have an overabundance of hobbies, craft interests, and collections. And obvious to people who don’t manifest their life’s trauma by accumulating and holding onto possessions, who haven’t lost things so valuable that life becomes about holding onto everything else. Be grateful if you have never been touched by deprivation or trauma. Be grateful if you’ve never been touched by a loss that broke something inside you and triggered compulsive and addictive behavior. Also be compassionate and forgiving toward people who have the hard work to do in healing their relationship to their possessions, and healing the underlying trauma. It’s a process and a spiritual journey.

“Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”– Ian MacLaren, pseudonym for Reverend John Watson

That includes being kind to yourself. I want to reiterate, I did not watch Hoarders to ridicule or feel superior to others; it was to cast light on my own shadow.

“To be aware of a single shortcoming within oneself is more useful than to be aware of a thousand in somebody else.”– Dalai Lama

After watching the show, I’m taking another look at what a healthy relationship with my stuff looks like. I ask: do I need it, do I love it, do I take care of it, do I value the story it tells, does it have positive associations, do I use it or is it just one more thing I have to keep moving out of the way, is it helping or hindering me in living my best life, does it anchor me to the past or does it contribute to the life I want to create now, is it usable in the current state it’s in, is it adding value to my life, would I buy it again today, would it be better off in someone else’s hands, do I have room for it, is it valuable enough to take up my time and energy, am I keeping it because I’m an indecisive, lazy procrastinator or because I genuinely want it in my life?

I feel concerned we may soon be facing a generation of kids who will have troubled relationships with possessions and money (issues which are often interrelated). The trauma associated with Covid-19 and the economic downturn it triggered could be setting up the same dynamic many baby boomers see with their depression-era parents – chronic fear of not having enough; a poverty mentality rather than an abundance mentality. It’s something to be mindful of.

The best thing we can do right now is set a positive example for our kids. Any time I can pare down to my most beautiful and meaningful possessions, I feel lighter and happier. A clean and uncluttered space instantly makes me feel both calm and energized. For me, it’s definitely worth the effort to ask those questions and make the hard decisions to part with possessions that are in the way of living the life I want. I’ll always be more of a bohemian than a minimalist, and that’s fine as long as I feel happy and inspired by the space I inhabit.

We will all (hopefully) be busy with our normal lives soon enough, so this time at home is a gift, an opportunity if we shift the extra hours away from watching reality TV and spend it lightening the load of burdensome possessions.

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How Do You Define Success?

What does success look like? You alone define what success means to you.

I was asked a question today: “Several weeks from now, if you have successfully followed through, what does that accomplishment look and feel like?”

Such a good question to ask and answer. After all, why move into action without first setting a clear, positive intention for where you’re trying to go?

This question is essential if, like me, you struggle with attention deficit and distractibility. (These days, who isn’t having their attention pulled in multiple directions by the latest bright shiny object or global catastrophe?)

Clarifying the vision of what you want to accomplish and create, painting a specific and detailed picture in your mind, then giving laser focus to the vision by taking action – that’s what moves the dream forward. Otherwise you might start 20 projects and finish none (my downfall). Or find yourself busy-busy-busy, yet accomplishing nothing but running in circles. Or find yourself so distracted by what everyone else is doing that all you accomplish is “following” or “liking”. Don’t let other people set the agenda for your time.

These are my suggestions for clarifying the vision of what you want to create…

  • Details bring the vision to life. Use energizing and descriptive words.
  • The words “I AM” add power to the intention.
  • Make it at least 50% believable
  • Envision the outcome, not the specific action steps to get there.
  • Use positive wording – put focus on what you do want.
  • Specify your time frame: short-term (next several weeks), medium term (one year), or a dream that has no timeline.
  • Include both an inner and outer focus (what does it look like in the outer world and how does it feel inside).
  • Add the phrase “This or something better for the highest good of all concerned”. This allows for the possibility that the Universe (God/Spirit/higher power) can bring you something even better than you imagine, and might know what’s for your highest good more than you do.
  • Make it heart-centered.
  • Tune in to what shows up after creating the intention/vision. You might find messages in movies, books, billboards, or bumper stickers. New people, offers of help and support, and new opportunities might show up. Pay attention.

You can write a paragraph, make a list, create a vision board — I do encourage you to put it in writing, put it someplace you’ll see it, and make it visually appealing for you.

Here is an example of creating through collage…

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Here is an example called an Ideal Scene. It puts a heart with “I AM” at the center, with branches that detail the vision.

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Note: the practice of creating Ideal Scenes came from studying at the University of Santa Monica. The question that inspired this article was posed by the writing coach Angie Ebba.

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Wander With Wonder

Where do I find inspiration for my creative endeavors? Where do I find beauty? Where do I find something to smile about? Where do I find incredible color, pattern, design? Where do I find reminders to be grateful for the spirit of the city I live in? Where do I restore my energy and come back into balance? Where do I find the subtle change of seasons? Where do I find signs of people that are happily: planting flowers, swinging in hammocks, running through sprinklers, painting rocks, creating and appreciating art, building fairy gardens, enjoying life, and rightfully taking pride in their home/neighborhood/city?

I find all this and more right outside my door. All that, plus horses tied to hitching posts, unicorns, dinosaurs and gnomes! Despite the challenges of 2020, grateful to be alive right here, right now.

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Signs of the Times

This is a small sampling of the many flags, yard signs, flyers, sidewalk art, painted rocks, stickers, and phone pole flyers I’ve seen on walks through my neighborhood in the past few months. People are speaking out on Covid-19, the 2020 election, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, Social Justice, Pride month, staying hopeful, staying strong, staying busy and being grateful. Photos were taken February through August 2020.

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Will the pandemic turn out to be a good thing?

I look back on a life rich with learning, and one thing I’ve learned is that perspective can shift dramatically over time. What looks bad in the moment can turn out to be for the best.

A big shift is occurring on the planet right now, and it is devastating to see the losses. Yet, despite moments of fear, isolation, and uncertainty, I am trying to keep an open mind that allows for good to emerge. When I get locked into my “this is bad” mentality, I’ve been thinking about this folk tale of an old Chinese farmer who lived many years ago. He owned one horse that he used to plough his fields.

One day, the horse ran away into the hills. The neighbors said, “We are so sorry for your bad fortune.” The old man replied, “Who knows what’s good or bad?”

A week later, the horse returned with a herd of wild horses, which now belonged to the old man. The neighbors said, “We are so happy for your good fortune!” The old man replied, “Who knows what’s good or bad?”

While his only son was riding one of the wild horses, he was thrown off and broke his leg. The neighbors said, “What bad fortune!” The old man replied, “Who knows what’s good or bad?”

A few days later, the army came to the village and took all the strong young men away to be soldiers. The farmer’s son wasn’t conscripted because he could not fight with a broken leg. The neighbors said, “What good fortune!” The old man replied, “Who knows what’s good or bad?”

And so it goes. I’ve had many experiences I labeled bad when they happened, that turned out to bring forward something remarkably good. Life can have a way of doing that if we work with an experience as a point of reinvention, as the jumping off point to embrace the scary and unknown, as fertile ground for planting a new seed.

While many people simply want to “get back to normal” given the enormous challenges of our time, there are others who look at this as a unique opportunity for dramatic positive changes – changes that will ultimately be for the higher good of the planet. I heard someone say recently “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” and indeed, people are creating new opportunities every day in response to the radical changes we’re experiencing.

The question I’m asking myself is, “How do I want to be with this experience?” Can I accept it and ride the waves? Can I see it as an opportunity to create something new in my life? Can I become a better person – will it open my heart and increase my capacity for consideration of others? Caring about other people can be an abstract idea; this is an opportunity to demonstrate care toward others in a specific and concrete way. This shift may show me a new path of service; I’ve been presented with an enormous opportunity to get creative with how I’m living my life.

It is not too soon to start looking at pieces of what’s happening with a new perspective. Here’s one example of reframing something most of us are struggling with – staying home.

“Try this perspective shift. Instead of seeing ‘social distancing’ and travel bans as panic, try seeing them as acts of mass cooperation intended to protect the collective whole. This plan is not about individuals going into hiding. It’s a global deep breath…and agreement between humans around the planet to be still. Be still, in hopes that the biggest wave can pass without engulfing too many of the vulnerable amongst us.”  — Dr Lindsay Jernigan

I am open to imagining entering a new era of global cooperation; to believe we’ll come together from around the world to address issues of environment, inequality and injustice.

 

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Some quotes that have got me thinking…

 

“If we see them on the street, if we read about them in the news, if we hear about them from our friends—if they come into our consciousness in any way—they are candidates for our loving-kindness and compassion. It’s an assignment without boundaries, without borders, and we’re forever engaged in on-the-job training.”

— Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

There are a lot of candidates for our compassion and loving-kindness right now. I’m finding the practice easier when I’m holding compassion for people who have lost their jobs and businesses, who have lost their health, or are working long hours to serve others. Holding loving-kindness for politicians I don’t agree with, and people whose actions I don’t agree with, there’s the work, there’s the challenge. When I get upset with someone’s actions—and sometimes I’m utterly furious—can I bless them and let it go? I try. And then I accept myself whether I can do it in the moment or not. On-the-job training.

 

“The oak fought the wind and was broken, while the willow bent when it must and survived.”

– Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven

I read this quote as an introduction to Upside Down In The Middle of Nowhereby Julie T. Lamana. A book about hurricane Katrina that reminded me catastrophes keep coming; they are nothing new. Some are more global and some are more local. Some are more collective and some are more personal.

 

“Graceful surrender through accepting reality is one aspect of wisdom.”

— Rebecca Jackson Aydelette, SoulCollage Community Update, April 2020

I choose surrender over relentless fighting against the experience. I accept bending in the harsh wind that’s blowing, over being broken. I accept my best as my best, without judgment about who is doing better or worse on any given day. I choose to focus on the positive, connect with my loving circle of friends that bring me joy, stay active or stay quiet as needed, look around and appreciate a world that’s awake with the new beginnings of springtime, and use art and creativity, and every other tool in my toolbox, for maintaining physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

 

“I did get somewhat more work done when I was on my leave—and I had much more energy at night after a day spent lollygagging instead of working in the office. But the huge wads of time I now had oppressed me—more time to be lazy meant more time to feel guilty, too.”

— Phyllis Korkki, The Big Thing: How to Complete Your Creative Project Even If You’re a Lazy, Self-Doubting Procrastinator Like Me

I have a friend who experiences absolutely no guilt, regardless of how he spends his time. He spends zero time fretting about what he does or does not get done. Being retired, he spends his time as he wishes and each thing is exactly as worthwhile as the next. He doesn’t give more or less value to house/yard work vs. reading news vs. bike riding vs. video game playing vs. novel reading vs. dog walking vs. taking photos vs. hanging with friends. It’s all good. He doesn’t drain off one iota of his energy judging how he spends his time, feeling guilty, feeling lazy, or feeling bad. I want to be more like that. I tend to have a huge list of things that “should get done” before I get to relax, enjoy life, and have fun. Right now I have so much time and yet I still feel guilty if I laze about and read a book or watch an hour of Sugar Rush. There is a value system that makes me feel guilty for sitting around watching people make cupcakes. I would like to perfect becoming a human being instead of a human doing. And again, accept what I’m doing as the best I can do.

 

And one final quote I love…

“It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

— Anne Lamott

I am so aware and so grateful for the people that are lifting my spirits right now by reaching out, sharing something funny, lending a hand in a small way. I’m trying to do that too.

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When Handwork Becomes Soul Work

In the words of Pinola Estes, these times call for each of us to “stand up and show our soul”.

It makes perfect sense to me that so many people right now are reconnecting to their creative side. I spend time on creative pursuits in good times and challenging times. In the challenging times handwork is my refuge. Projects help me regroup when I feel discouraged or depleted. Creative projects make my heart sing and connect me to the best part of myself. Creativity is my connection to Spirit, and for me there is no separation between handwork and soul work.

I’ll give you some examples:

  • When it honors loss and promotes healing. Making a prayer shawl, a video of photos that honor a life, a memory quilt.
  • When I create for and with children to help them find joy and magic in life. A happy moment for me is seeing my daughter holding a doll I made her, with both of them wearing skirts I sewed and hats I knit.
  • When it pulls my focus away from fear and anxiety and the crazy-busy aspects of life and supports balance, refuge, recharging. When it supports integration – I go from being a disembodied head to an integrated head, heart, and hands.
  • When it liberates the power and creativity of my “shadow” side. When shadow aspects of my personality are recognized/acknowledged through being given a voice, I’m able to find the gold hidden in my shadow. Granted, drawing dark and disturbed self-portraits isn’t for everyone, but it’s a great outlet for a troubled soul.
  • When it connects multiple generations to a legacy of making and creating. When my mom was still alive she would dream up all kinds of projects – making soap, candles, tie dye t-shirts, jam, holiday ornaments, etc. – and we would get four generations together for a crafting party. I’m grateful we had that time together and I treasure those happy memories with mom.
  • When it makes my home a unique expression of my family, our travels and interests, and what we love. When it makes our home feel happy and comfortable. For me it’s restorative to add light, color, personality, humor, richness, texture, quirkiness and uniqueness to our home. Our home is full of things that capture a moment in time – a handprint, a self-portrait, a drawing or vacation photo collage.
  • When I give a hand-made and heart-felt gift. My daughter attended Waldorf school from birth through 4thgrade, where it was customary to give hand-made gifts and together we made covered journals, puppets, skirts, felted bags, headbands, crowns, dyed silks, jump ropes, bubble wands, and other assorted gifts for all her friends.
  • When I’m stuck with a decision – nothing removes the blocks and supports creative problem solving like handwork. Handwork supports discernment, resourcefulness, surrender and non-attachment – all skills I need to practice with small decisions before I make the big decisions. Creativity gives me practice in making choices that reflect a loving attitude toward myself. Making requires action, so it’s a good practice that helps me come to a decision and get into action.
  • When I need to remember to put the heavy issues of life aside and create moments of joy, laughter, fun, inspiration.
  • When I need connection – to kids and friends, to a creative community, to nature, to my authentic voice, to something I can hold in my hands.
  • When emotions need an outlet; when I need to manage my emotional energy. Different kinds of handwork have different energy – needle felting, painting, knitting, drawing, flower arranging, fabric dyeing, collage, hand and machine sewing are all different energetically. They have all helped me get away from screens and combat stress, apathy, and depression.
  • When I create something to wear that’s one-of-a-kind and honors my individuality.
  • Crafting for parties, weddings, birthdays, and new babies.
  • When I need an adventure – art and craft is an introvert’s adventure.

Creativity is a universal part of cultures around the world, whether it is practical and essential or recreational. Handwork connects us to a broader human experience. Don’t overcomplicate it – a mandala made from household items or spices, leaves and petals is a beautiful piece of art. Getting out some sidewalk chalk or paper and colored pencils will pass the time in an enlivening way. Doing a collage portrait of your pet using paper cut from old magazines will take your mind off things, as will remaking an old garment into a new fashion, crafting knitting needles or zipper pulls from molding clay, making finger puppets from scraps at hand, or a bean bag toss game from an old sweater.

Now is a great time to give yourself a gift of something you’ve created with your own hands. You’ll never have more time to watch YouTube how-to videos and visit sites with free offerings of patterns and instruction. Get creative and sooth your soul. If we are going to live with uncertainty and change, we might as well live beautifully and creatively.

 

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