Monday, December 31, 2012

The Sum of Small Efforts

“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.”
~ R. Colier ~

This was the basis of my starting Keep or Chuck (the project and the blog).  I mean, no, I just found the quote today (I love success quotes), but that's the idea.  Thinking that I would display those small efforts to the world (or those who find me) day in and day out was, well, unrealistic.  Overambitious.  But I like having something to aim for.

Awhile back, a made a trip to Goodwill and dropped off a few things.  There are layers of small successes here.
  • Got rid of some stuff I knew had to be chucked.
  • Identified a couple of items for the garbage (yes, garbage).
  • Let go of some things I was trying to sell on Amazon (money worry is clutter, too).
  • I get to fling things on my to-do list, too.
I use Workflowy for a to-do list.  It works the way my cluttered brain does, so I can search my various lists and find out what my ideas were. 

I left this post idle for a month or two.

It's the last day of 2012.  I am at my dining room table, surveying the cluttered mess that is my house.  The Christmas decorations look manageable; I know the will go into the green and red containers.  I can see the piano, well enough that I could just move a few things and be able to play it.  But I feel a heaviness, knowing that I've had 2 days while my family is away, and I haven't transformed this place.  I have been making "small efforts" but I didn't even pick one area to make a noticeable difference in.  They will be home tomorrow.  I want them to see a difference, but I need to want this for myself.  I think I do.  Something's not clicking, though.

I'm focusing on failure, which is why I reopened this post and am bringing my attention to success again.  Maybe the emphasis need to be on the SUM rather than on the small efforts.  I'm not happy with the sum, so I feel like I don't have success.  The opposite of success need not be failure, though.  If the repetition of more small efforts could lead to success, than what I have right now is a partial sum.  Partial success.  In math class, I would have partial credit.

I just remembered that I made my own definition of success.  I thought, I should look at that and blog about it.  Then I realized I already had, on my other blog.  I went to look at it and WOW, it was my last post, last August.  Leaving it for so long feels like failure-- but I get partial credit.

I've had a song from the most recent Muppets movie in my head.  The chorus goes, "I've got everything that I need right in front of me."  Just keep adding it up, Em, you'll get a sum eventually.

Sing Unabashedly, Creating a Conscious, Effective Story of Self

Creating a 
Story of 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Chuck This!

I filled two recycling bags.
I can see my piano (but not play it yet).
I emptied 4 containers.
I threw away 2 broken flip-flops.
I found potential declutter/cleaning buddies.
I don't feel accomplished.
I'm thanking myself and tucking myself in anyway.

Tomorrow is another chucking day.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans' Day Declutter

I have been lazily listening to my daughter sing all day.  She sang while on the "throne," as I lollygagged in bed.  Anytime she went from here to there, a song accompanied her.  She made up a clever rhyming song to get me out of bed.  I was too sleepy to remember it now.  She sings to the dogs.  She comes with a soundtrack, and I love it.

This afternoon she shared her songs with more people than lucky me.  Her choir went to the VA hospital to sing for the vets.  She has been practicing "Grand Old Flag" for the last three days.  Okay, okay, I've been singing that one with her.

What does this have to do with the decluttering theme?  Music is abundant and moving.  I am surrounded by song, but not always so keenly aware of it.  My awareness of this gift my daughter is offering to those who have served our country is sharpening my sense of gratitude and purposeful action in my own life.  Perhaps it is cliché, but I am trying not to take things for granted.  Especially when an acquaintance in a chat room pointed out how much the veterans would truly appreciate my daughter's choir's visit.

Abundance:  Why do I keep so much clutter in my life?  I am surrounded by stuff, stuff I don't need.  What would it be like to be surrounded by song and little else?  If I cleared space for it, would the song fill the space?  Would I be filled with music and feel less like I need all this stuff?

Movement:  We say that certain songs are moving, or stirring.  The word "emotion" contains motion.  I have known for many years that cranking some tunes can help me get some cleaning done (you know, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and all that).  How do I forget?  How do I go so long without choosing some uplifting music?  Without singing my own song?  Playing the movie of my life without a soundtrack?  Could it be that the clutter, which I cling to with a scarcity mentality, actually sucks the song out of the atmosphere?  The tones are trapped under piles.  The music can't move amongst the matter.

Today, I have started to move with the appreciation of her song.  I have thrown a few things away, repurposed others, felt myself move forward.  I am a little overwhelmed by everything I'm trying to get done today, but just getting rid of a few things has made me feel accomplished and cheerful.  And I have songs going through my head. 

My messy house is a prison of my own making.  I am so lucky to live in a country that values and protects freedom, yet I frequently let my things and my subconscious make decisions for me.  Maybe some other time I can come up with a better way to honor the troops and my country, but just for today, singing my own little battle hymn to move my decluttering troops in the freedom of my own home, I am grateful, and hopeful, and marching on.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Clutter Busting

True confession (because that's what blogs are all about): I have not made another trip to Goodwill since I last mentioned it.  However, to encourage myself and you would-be chuckers out there, I will share the book that I was reading when I really started chucking (and started this blog).

Now, I have read a lot of books about getting rid of clutter, getting organized, time management, effectiveness, etc.  Each one of them got me to do something.  I'm not going to say this one takes the cake and renders all the others obsolete.  It is the Now book.  The book that has me motivated Now.  Brooks Palmer is so compassionate in his approach and has a lot of Zen exercises to get me in touch with my feelings about my stuff and to be gentle with myself (and yet, busting occurs).

What really drew me in to this book, though, was the combination of Palmer's kind awareness of what goes on for messies like me, and my own awareness about the parallels between my relationship with stuff and my relationship with food.  I am in treatment for binge-eating/compulsive overeating, and I found that with this book (more than any other), I was able to plug both of my addictions in and still have it make sense to me.  Sometimes I would go back and read several paragraphs substituting "food" for "clutter" and "eating" for "keeping" or "buying" and it resonated as written and with my substitutions.

Maybe that's more about me than it is about the book, but I've known for years that I binge on shopping and other activities, like I do on food.  I know that I cling to piles of stuff the same way I cram too many tasks into time the same way I can't stand white space when I'm making art the same way I use too many words (and can't resist parenthetical remarks) the same way I don't feel satisfied unless I'm overfull.  Reading this one book, I felt like I was doing therapy in multiple arenas.

Now, my dilemma.  I kept the book as long as I could from the library.  I want to go back and do every exercise.  Do I buy it because it will be truly useful?  Or would it just add to my clutter?  I think I will take the middle way and pick it up from the library again.

Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What's Holding You Back

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Back to school, back to clutter

I lost my momentum with the kids going back to school.  All this business of buying school supplies, and shoes, and alarm clocks, and always a few other temptations while I am out shopping...  On top of it, today was another trip to Target to buy items for a baby shower, and darned if I didn't pick up some cute Post-It notes and Freezees for 70% off...  I've got the whole flow going backwards. 

I tried to be funny about it.  I posted on Facebook just now:
A wise woman told me that if I was overwhelmed with cleaning the house, I might want to start in the bedroom, because that would give me a sense of peace when I go to bed at night. Here I am. I swear the laptop just followed me in here.
Time to change the chi around here, it's starting to smell.

Just when I was about to sign off, I heard my husband get home and start to empty the dishwasher!  I think that's where the good chi is!  I gotta go!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Did I Chuck the Chucking?

How much stuff could an Em-Chuck chuck if an Em-Chuck could chuck stuff?  I did not keep up my daily blogs, but I am here now to tell you that is a GOOD thing, because the decluttering took on a life of its own.

It started off as a minimum of one item per day, and after about 4 days, it had gathered momentum.  One night I'm chucking before bed and then I find myself chucking again before I leave for work in the morning.  The whole family started chucking.  My husband was a gleeful chucking fool (he's been wanting to clear out for awhile-- I'm the packrat). 

Letting go and creating space became so satisfying that it even became more appealing than sitting on my butt blogging.  In fact, the only reason I'm blogging right now is because I am stuck at a computer away from home (where I could be chucking).

But wait!  There's more!  A free set of ginsu knives!  (that's the mindset that got me into this mess) There is more, though.  My 9-year-old was my fashion consultant and helped me go through all of my clothes.  She handed me the next item to try on and recorded flung items on  She received, from me, a skirt that I bought in Provence half my life ago.  It's way too big for her, but it's colorful and it flares and it blesses her.  When it was mine, everytime I saw it, I thought
  1. I wish I were slender enough to wear this
  2. I was happy then and I'm not now (not necessarily true, but comparing my daily life now to a summer in France can throw your perspective off)
  3. I should make this into something I can use (obligation- the dreaded SHOULD)
  4. I have to learn some sewing skills for #3 (tasking myself, downplaying the skills I do have) 
  5. I don't have time for #4 (scarcity mentality)
  6. I should get rid of this
  7. I can't get rid of this because I would be throwing away happiness associated with it
I know what you're thinking.  Seriously?  You thought all of this every time you saw this skirt?  YES.  Pretty much.  Every time.  I think fast and my brain is used to running these same grooves over and over again.  Multiply that times every unused object and unfinished project in my house.  It is abusive.  That is what I am finally chucking!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Just Do It

Maybe it was the trip to the Nike store yesterday, but when I realized I hadn't yet chucked and blogged today, my solution was, "Just do it."

No, not immediately.  If I were that good, I would never have gotten myself into this mess. 

First, I panicked.  It went something like this:
  • Oh, no!  I'll never get to bed!
  • I'll be up all night because I told my family I would get this pile of junk out of the dining room tonight.
  • I've failed.
  • Wait, I only have to get rid of one thing.
  • That thing could be a piece of paper.  Surely, I can find a piece of paper to get rid of.
  • That's dumb.  I can't blog that.  I recycle paper every day.
  • OK, I'll just clean up this pile of children's books.
  • Darn.  Half of them are French so I can't let go of them yet, and half of them are English so they are going to my nephews.  It doesn't really count if I can only get them as far as the front hall closet to await my next trip to see them.
  • The front hall closet!  It's full of stuff I've been trying to find homes for!  All I have to do is pick one thing, decide where it's going, and PUT IT IN MY CAR so it has a reasonable chance of getting there!
That's when I finally got to, just do it.  Just get rid of one thing.  Doing turned into more doing and I recorded several items on to drop off tomorrow.  They didn't get to my car, but they are at the front door. 

Every one of those items is something I already decided some time ago to get rid of, and didn't.  Why?  Because I seem to want all of my things to have a "soft landing."  I feel like it needs to go to a good home, or I need to get money for it, or something purposeful.  I don't want to put myself down here-- it is absolutely my intention to love myself through this-- but seriously?!  I'm not putting babies up for adoption. 

Speaking of babies, one of the items that is FINALLY leaving the house is a diaper bag.  My "babies" are starting the 4th and 7th grades!  I feel like I just smacked myself upside the head for holding on to that so long.  Wait, my feelings are hurt.  Now I have to hug me a few times and tell me I was just teasing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Honoring the Process

Problem #1:
Lost my mind over getting rid of French books.  Entire declutter session derailed.

Solution:  Picked a hormonal fight with my husband.  Went on a date.  Slept on it.  The next day, write a blog instead.  Brought a box of books to Goodwill (chuck), none of them in French (keep).

Clutter Warning!  Brought 2 items home from Goodwill.  A shirt for the daughter (needed now) and a brand-spanking new pair of Converse tennies (which will fit probably within a year).

Problem #2:
Plastic bag of old tennis shoes hanging on the inside of the door to the front hall closet.  Why is it a problem?
  • They are stinky
  • They are so BIG that you can hardly shut the door
  • I won't throw them away because I know they can be recycled 
  • The oldest pair has been there for two years
Solution:  Used bag of shoes as an excuse to get out of the house, combining a trip to Goodwill with a trip to the Mall of America to drop shoes off at the Nike store.  Dropoff site is a little garbage can in the wall, clear to the ground so I can feel the satisfaction of seeing my old shoes pile onto other old shoes.  They will be turned into athletic surfaces.  (there is a nifty video)

Clutter Warning!  Because I can't stand to get rid of something that might be useful, we pulled all the shoelaces out.  They are in a pile on the couch waiting for me to find a home.  On the bright side, we walked out of MOA empty-handed.

The shoelaces are still stinky.

Problem #3:
"Your art with the clay and the yarn and the pastels is still here."  They gave it to me to take home after art therapy.  It was from my first session.  It represented an important process at the time, but it was ugly.  There were holes in the paper with torn cloth stuck in them and an orange Sculpey umbilical cord stuck to the paper.  I couldn't even show it to my artist mother because (a) it wasn't art, and (b) hello, umbilical cord!  It was mine.  I thought I had to walk out with it.  I wondered what I would do.  Were parts of it salvageable?  If I didn't take it, did that mean I was still in denial about the issues that came up while I worked on it?

Solution:  Fortunately, I was able to build on my previous successes.  I realized it belonged in the garbage before I even left the building.   I shoved it down the the paper towels in the bathroom.  I only have to keep the art I love.  And even that is not a "have-to."

Clutter Warning!  I will be creating a lot more art.  I am likely to love a lot of it.  Furthermore, my favorite art to do is collage.  So guess what kind of stuff collects, waiting to become collage?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Setting My Intention

There is something about declaring my intention publicly that makes me *think* I will be more likely to follow through.  I don't know if that's true.  I started what I meant to be my main blog over a year ago, but I sure haven't done much with it.  I think that is because it is an absolutely authentic reflection of where I am in my journey; it doesn't just display where I want to be.

It is, though, kind of like buying a gym membership to make myself exercise.  I am starting a blog of the things I fling (declutter) in order to make myself do it.  That's only part of the reason: I also want to tell me story.  Yesterday I tried to get rid of a whole bunch of books, including children's books in French, and I got so bogged down in my feelings about:
  • leaving the classroom a few years ago (I taught French)
  • dropping the ball on raising my kids bilingual (the eldest was bilingual until he was 3, then English shot ahead, and I got tired)
  • the very little attention French gets from me anymore (or the very little French attention I give myself?)
  • millions of teaching ideas that pop up as I look at the pages but I don't know when to create them, since I've got a day job that I like (that does not involve French)
In other words:
  • fear of failure
  • perfectionism
  • guilt
  • scarcity mentality
  • and so on
If your first thought is "Get over it and get rid of your clutter," you may want to go on to another blog.  Unless, of course, your second thought is "I want to examine why I am judging this woman for her attachment to objects," or perhaps, "This could be fascinating, like Hoarders."  I have never watched Hoarders, by the way, because I am afraid I will relate too much to the people on it.  I admit it might make me feel better, in an "at least I'm not that bad" sort of way, but I just don't want to go there.

The blog gets its name from an evening in 2003 when my husband had moved already, and I was getting ready to move right behind him, with the three-year-old and the newborn.  The movers were coming the next day and I was not done packing.  I was sleep-deprived, had postpartum depression and anxiety, and found myself completely unable to make decisions.  I asked a friend (my son's daycare provider at the time) to help me, and for hours she stayed with me and held up objects, saying for each one, "Keep it or chuck it?"  I would try to reason whether I needed/wanted/loved it, or I would tell its story, and she would gently interrupt me and say, "Keep or chuck?"  It was painful, but the persistence is what I needed (and why I broke down and called her in the first place).

I usually use the FlyLady term "fling" when I'm getting rid of things.  FlyLady's question is, "Does it bless this house?"  When I am helping my kids clean up, I say, "Keep or fling?"  But something about the urgency of my current flinging decisions (one, to fling freely, and two, to do so in a blog) brings me back to the immediacy of my decision-making that night.  Keep or chuck.  "Chuck" has a sense of power and finality.

That said, even my helper of that night, Michelle (of ReMiks Jewelry), might agree that this wouldn't be much of a blog if each entry had only a list of items marked "kept" or "chucked."  My intention is to fling at least one item every day, and tell the story that needs telling.