Sunday, September 7, 2008

Stuff defines you?

Feeling tired? Inertia got you stuck in your chair? Procrastination rules your life?

It isn't your fault.

Blame it on the junk mail, the fast food condiment packets, the orphan socks. The skinny clothes hanging in your closet and aunt Isabel's china that you inherited when she downsized and moved into her little apartment. These are sapping your strength.

Stuff. That's the problem. Bob Graham, essayist and computer programmer, suggests:
"A cluttered room saps one's spirits. One reason, obviously, is that there's less room for people in a room full of stuff. But there's more going on than that. I think humans constantly scan their environment to build a mental model of what's around them. And the harder a scene is to parse, the less energy you have left for conscious thoughts. A cluttered room is literally exhausting."
Getting rid of 'stuff' is exhausting, too. And almost heart wrenching until it is gone. Then our brains and bodies adjust, block out the memories of the stuff, now gone, and expands to fill the space with pleasant relaxing appreciation of the simplified landscape.

For a full week I devoted every waking hour to eradicating my house of clutter and 'stuff.' If you ever watch these 'get organized' programs on television, they begin by emptying the room of everything and then just bring back what fits, what is needed.
Knowing my pragmatic nature of less is more when it comes to work and house cleaning, I needed to trick myself into taking this first step. An object at rest should stay at rest if you ask me. Why move it if you're just going to bring it back in and put it in nearly the same place? The answer of course was right under my feet. Carpet. I needed to steam clean the carpet. To do that, aha! I was forced to remove everything from the room. I felt vindicated as I hefted chairs and coffee tables, piano and love seat, filing cabinets and book shelves.

There is something quite promising about an empty room. Hope perhaps of a new beginning? In the bedroom I took the opportunity to paint the walls as well as clean the carpet. What was once green is now blue. What was basic white undercoat, now a clean and comforting tan. If a person ever needs a new beginning, a get-out-of-jail free card, a freshly painted room shouts 'overs' and lets its occupant start anew.


Like the master of ceremonies of a HGTV program, I walked through the house and pulled from every room to decorate my bedroom. The overstuffed chair from the family room. The bookshelves from my office, the flower arrangement from the bathroom and the assorted books and nick knacks from the fireplace mantle. By the end of the day I had created a retreat. My little haven from the world soothed my frazzled nerves and invited me in to sit back in the overstuffed chair and put my feet on the matching stool.

While contemplating the day's work, my thoughts wondered to why people surround themselves with stuff. I came up to the conclusion that if a person lives in the moment, he needs no 'stuff.' If he lives in the past, he surrounds himself with history, either his own or the history that interests him. And if he lives for tomorrow, then he organizes 'things' so that he can find and use them in upcoming projects and events. And, if a person just exists, blown by the winds of chance and circumstances then he basically lives in chaos. Every inch of his environment filled with odds and ends, so overwhelmed that when he needs something, he cannot find it.

My brother told of a co-worker who dragged leftovers, cast offs and unused bits and pieces home from the electrical jobs they worked on. He stored them in a barn next to his house. I had the chance to see that barn. It was literally so full that to walk from one end to the other, we walked on boxes of items he'd collected. When he set to remodeling his home and needed the very things he'd dragged home -- he couldn't find them. Instead he went to the hardware or supply store and bought new. Eventually he or a member of his family brought a fork lift and other equipment and took all of his accumulation to the dump.

That's pretty much what I've been doing this week, taking out the trash. Maybe I subconsciously made a life choice -- I choose to live in the moment and prepare for tomorrow, organizing the things I need, the things I truly want, so that I can use and enjoy them.

The house is almost Zen-like in comparison to the clutter from before. I still hold on to just about every book, fabric, and family-related ephemera. But we have jettisoned old clothes, even those with memories of our youth. We finally donated that old computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse. Threw out papers, papers and more papers, a collection of plastic ware for which I can never find the right lid and lids for which I can never find the right container, assorted fast-food condiments, an unopened bag of flour that expired in 2006. Oh yes, and a pair of tennis shoes so old and worn that the rubber had crumbled.

Two rooms, well, one if you don't count the garage, still need to be sorted out. The garage and my 'craft' or as I currently refer to it as 'crap' room. The books I can't part with. I need to invest in shelves so I can organize and use them. The fabric -- I'm looking for a good home for several pieces. And the items saved when Mom gave up housekeeping -- those I still cling to. So, I admit, I am a person who lives in the past -- but I'm moving into the moment with my face turning toward the future.

My motto, taken from a book I found in my diggings is one simple Latin irregular verb: abicio. It means simply: to throw away. Interesting that this particular verb is second in an alphabetical listing under the heading "Principal Parts of Common Irregular Verbs beginning with the verb abdo, which means to put aside or hide. As I read down the list I see resolve grow with each word: abigo (drive away), abripio (tear away) and accendo (set on fire).

Perhaps those ancients, creators of the Latin language, suffered from the accumulation of 'stuff,' too, and it shows in their 'irregular' verbs. What is at the end of their list? Volo -- be willing, wish; volvo -- roll; and last of all voveo -- vow.


(Photo: Our cat, Mal, sitting in the 'crap' room. Yes, I still have a lot of work to do!)

1 comment:

Ruth D~ said...

I'm gearing up for something similar. I've been gearing for a long time. Over a year ago I read a book and I think did a blog on the principal of cleaning out the junk. Soon.