Room for Imagination

canstockphoto7052527I’ve been spending the last week doing a typical new year task – clearing my house of things. Most people who know me will tell you I’m an organized person and when I say my house is a mess, it’s not as visible to others. I’m one of those people.

Most of my cleaning and organizational habits evolved from my childhood, where cleanliness meant control and control meant less anxiety. It was, I thought, in my nature to be a creative slob, but between an OCD parent and years in the Army, my nature was suppressed, mutated and is now clearly unrecognizable from the kid who lost everything. Gone is the child who cleaned by shoving things under the bed, until the pile crept across the floor, like a slow-spreading moss.

Something was lost, even as I learned to keep track of everything. I spend a lot of time keeping things under control. De-cluttering is treatment of the symptoms, but not a cure. The cure is bringing less into one’s home in the first place. The cure is asking yourself what things represent to you and learning that they are not you. The cure is asking yourself, what problem am I trying to solve?

There’s a level of shame and fear associated with my possessions. Many things I bought so that I would never run out, a consistent fear birthed by growing up in poverty. Other canstockphoto41129839things are bought as a magic pill – looking to an outside source to fix a problem when I don’t trust myself to solve it. There are some things that bring me undiluted pleasure – books, pretty stationery, and good pens. But even then, too much of a good thing waters down one’s appreciation.

I’ve read books by a few of the gurus of organization and minimalism – Peter Walsh, Leo Babauta, and Julie Morgenstern. Now, I’m listening to the latest popular organizing book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. I downloaded it from my local library, so thankfully, not another acquisition.

canstockphoto10368894Yesterday it took several hours to go through all my clothes and to put back the ones I liked and wore. I folded the KonMari way, modifying methods to fit the space I have. I have to admit, my wardrobe looks good. The real test will be maintenance. I have a couple of bags of clothes to take to a nonprofit thrift store that benefits people with differing abilities.

Seeing what I am getting rid of will remain a stark reminder in my head moving forward. Aspirational shopping. Shopping to feel better about one’s self. Shopping because someone made a comment about what colors look good on you or hearing some offhanded, disdainful comment about casual dress. Decisions based on trying to solve a problem that might not have been a problem at all.

What I have left are the things I’ve always worn, always felt comfortable in, always appreciated – jeans, sweaters, t-shirts, blouses, and of course, fuzzy socks. I am easily seduced by color, with same items in different colors, but my wardrobe reflects my life now – not a life imagined, not a life envied, not a life to impress.

Consumerism poisons the well. Things get marketed to us to fix our flaws, including products that tell us we have too much stuff. There is an irony in the number of books and websites and products that promote minimalism. It’s as twisted as the green movement – convincing us to throw away items for more environmentally friendly wares.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’m still learning to resist the game. When we suffocate and drain this planet of its resources, I won’t be able to stand on principle, but I would be able to stand on the mountain of stuff I’ve purchased and discarded over a lifetime.

Still, recriminations are not useful. What has been useful to me is to think about the psychological impact of having this stuff around me. Thinking about where I got my ideas about possession and ownership, imagining what it would be like to not have things – what would I feel?

So much of what I own is about intent and failure to follow through. I intended to really get into Japanese ink painting. I took a class, bought the supplies, got a couple of books. Now those things sit, sulkily staring back at me everyday, reminding me of yet one more thing I will likely not master, or even practice.

The weight is there and it takes up space not just in my office closet, but in my mind. Every time I see it, I think I should…maybe when…why didn’t I… such a dilettante. It reminds me of a flaw to fix, a problem to solve, and the shame of not completing yet another task. Except it’s not the only thing. Boxes of photos unsorted. Books unread. Materials for projects never completed. So much head space filled with regret, disappointment, disgust – with all the physical reminders to prod me every day.

canstockphoto19779919I write this, as I struggle with the next phase. My books. My many, many, many books. I love books. I love reading them, touching them, being surrounded by them. I love the library and bookstores and online perusing. The presence of books makes me feel wealthy, smart, and full of potential. Their purposes, to impart information, to comfort, to entertain have been outweighed by my pathology of never-ending hunger.

I intend to read all of my books. Someday. And the weight of that intent has filled my space. There is little room for much else. For new ideas. For imagination. For the creativity borne out of time and space not filled with entertainment, impulses easily met, stuff yelling at me to stop ignoring it.

As I sort through them, I see myself bared open – all my wishes and dreams and struggles. Fitness books and cookbooks. Self-help books and books on meditation and depression. Reference books for any subject that caught my interest over the years. So many writing books, many in pristine condition.

Sending them off to the library, secondhand bookstores and Books for Africa will take the edge off. But I know this process is less about the stuff, and more about making room for my life now, making room for that creative slob.

39 Comments on “Room for Imagination

  1. Wow, I could really relate to this, Michelle. Your comment that,”De-cluttering is treatment of the symptoms, but not a cure” really gave me pause. I’m not a shopper or a collector, so the clutter in my life is mostly books and papers. I read Marie Kondo’s book when it first came out and it helped me to cull down my clothes (and finally admit that I will never fit into those “skinny” clothes I’ve been saving for years). Where she and I parted ways was when I read that she got rid of all but five books. I’m all for creating space in my life (both physical and mental space), but what I most want to fill it with is books. Her OCD and my OCD follow different paths.

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    • I’m a problem solver shopper, in that I buy things thinking they will fill some need or solve a problem, imagined or otherwise. I am often wrong. The wardrobe thing can be quite freeing and I like that anything I pull out of it now is something that fits and that I like.

      I part ways with her on the books as well. Her book is like anything else – you take the parts that work and ignore the rest. I’ve read tons of articles on book decluttering to motivate myself and immediately ignore advice that includes a number. I will always have a lot of books, but I want them to be books that add, not detract from my current life. It’s a challenge!

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  2. Oh how your words echo my struggle to de-clutter, Michelle. I manage fits and starts- and always feel better, but I never manage to clear out all the stuff that’s weighing me down, nor to stop myself from bit by bit bringing new stuff in. And the books! And the files of research info! And the spiders’ webs surrounding them all. Heavens, but it is so daft to be held hostage by one’s possessions. Ah well. One item at a time…

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    • While Marie Kondo is a tad extreme, one thing that held true for me is that the dribs and drabs method doesn’t work for most people and hasn’t for me, despite my many years of practice. And like you, it is hardly measurable because of what comes back in the door.
      I spent half a day just doing the wardrobe thing – sorting, trying on stuff, folding. I suspect the difference is that you see and enjoy measurable results within a relatively short time frame and it’s enough to convince you to maintain it.
      The book thing is taking me a couple hours every day for the last few days, but I’m determined to get it done. Maybe, too, all the labor involved in getting things sorted and removed makes a person reticent about adding more things. Only time will tell if any of these methods work!

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      • Very good luck, Michelle. Your diligence is inspiring me to take myself in hand with a firmer grip. Yesterday we did the DVD collection. One of the stumbling blocks is ‘oh we might just’ want it/need it/watch it again/want it as soon as we’ve disposed of it. Enough! Clean sweeps all round 🙂

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        • Thanks, Tish. I’m still in the book thing, losing steam last night as I got caught up in reading (deadly to the decluttering process!). Back at it again today with hopes of seeing a finish line. Good luck with your tasks!

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  3. I sat reading your words, open-mouthed at how I was relating to everything you wrote! Rather comforting to know there are kindred spirits ‘out there.’ Thank you for an encouraging article to start off my new year!

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    • You’re welcome! I imagine a lot of people are in the same boat. We’ve been trained to want, to look for the next best thing, to better ourselves to the point of absurdity. And we have the stuff to prove it. Best wishes to you in the new year!

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  4. I can feel the weight of your accumulated books in your words. Nicely done.

    “The cure is bringing less into one’s home in the first place.” Yes! Just like with eating junk food, if it isn’t in the shopping cart, it won’t make it to the pantry, and ultimately on my ever-lovin’ backside.

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  5. I don’t want to write a comment for fear of cluttering your Feng Shui’d perfection. Oh wait. Too Late Darn it.

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  6. I, on the other hand, am a creative slob. I tend to save everything until I am moving and then I get rid of everything — that’s when I’m ruthless. But about a year and a half ago, I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I wasn’t moving, but I was suffocating. I purged like you wouldn’t believe. Except for my books. Couldn’t get rid of a single one — even to good causes like you’re doing. You’re my hero.

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  7. I absolutely loved this entry! Your eloquent expression and description of what I imagine many many people relate to is just wonderful! I relate to this also! But I stop at my books 🙂 I lovingly adore my books, as I see them as representative of Me and who I have been, and who I am now. I have culled a little here and there over the years but have recently made peace with the fact that I’m allowed to collect ONE type of item 🙂

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    • Thank you for your generous words! I adore my books as well, but I am feeling the weight of intention all around me. Despite culling out nearly 200 books, I’m still left with a hefty collection. I think one of my childhood fantasies was to have, like the wealthy, my own library. The need to book hoard has passed for me and I want to make sure what I own is actively valued and used. We all have our lines in the sand!

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  8. I saw the Life-Changing-Magic-Tidying-Decluttering-Organizing book you mentioned at Container Store a couple of nights ago. Picked it up, put it down, pleased with myself for walking away empty handed only to return home and admire my sparkling clean kitchen pantry, freshly organized earlier that day, then relapse on Amazon. I ordered The Science of Good Cooking. It should arrive any minute. What a schmuck I am!

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    • I had to wait nearly 45 minutes at Half Price Books to sell them 100+ books yesterday. It took all of my will power to leave the store empty-handed. I might have a problem!
      As for Amazon, I’ve cancelled Prime just to cut down on some of the instant gratification nonsense. I’m going cold turkey. After looking at and handling every single one of my books, it’s easier, because I am looking forward to reading some things I’d forgotten that I had. It’s going to be a tough month!

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  9. I’m in the process of a mighty book purge myself, right now. I’ve already taken nearly a third of my collection to the local used bookstore (still a few boxes left to cart over). Anything they’re not sure they can sell, they then donate to Books Behind Bars, a nonprofit that supplies books to people who are incarcerated.

    Of course, through this process, I have managed to accrue quite a trade-in store credit! And so I am having to resist the urge to start refilling all of my newly-emptied shelves…

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    • They have a program here called the Women’s Prison Book Project. I got cash for my books that I sold yesterday, so I used it to send the project a box of dictionaries (they always have them on their wish list).

      I had to resist buying more books while in the used book store, which just seemed ridiculous, considering how many I’ve gotten rid of! But I completed the process and it feels good to look around. I know what I have and everything has a place. Now to maintain…

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  10. When I moved into my Hobbit Hole, I had to purge and purge and purge. I thought I’d never be able to pare down my books (I was a collector, getting autographs at conventions, etc.), but I only have one narrow bookcase now. The first purge is the hardest, going through all that internal Work that you’re doing. It gets easier.

    I have a single friend who has 2 refrigerators and a chest freezer because she has to buy food when it’s on sale. I tried to reason with her once that if you end up throwing most of it out a year later, it’s not a bargain. I was speaking a foreign language.

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    • The internal work is tough, but it does make the next steps a little easier. Marie Kondo tends to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, but there is something to be said in recognizing that the value of a thing is not in the possession of it. I kept thinking about all those wonderful books I’d hoarded and how someone else might make use of and appreciate them.

      I’m in the last phase of personal decluttering (before moving onto the household stuff) and it will be the most time-consuming – papers, stationery, photos, and craft stuff. Hopefully, though, the wardrobe and books served as good practice. I suppose each person has to find their own path. Although the only thing I think of when I hear ‘chest freezer’ is “who’d they kill?” It’s probably a cold case. Somebody got iced. Yes – I’ll stop now.

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  11. I have just spent 2 days out of the first week of the year cleaning. The first was my bedroom (it’s sooooo much nicer!) and the second my bathroom (yes, it took an entire day and it’s not even that big!) I feel the momentum carry me on!!
    My next project (and perhaps the hardest,) is my office. I have grand plans but I know it will take at least a couple of days. I’m looking forward to creating a haven to work in like I now have a haven to sleep in!!

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    • I’ve come to realize that I need to multiply the time I think a project will take times four to be anywhere accurate. It’s taken me days to get through wardrobe and books. Now onto the study. Ugh! Congrats on your successes and good luck with your office!

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      • Thanks! I made great progress on my first day and am on target to finish today. Course I now have a lot of office work (phone calls, emails, etc.) that I need to catch up on. Not to mention work in the kitchen (salads don’t make themselves!!) A woman’s work is never done!!

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  12. I kind of wish I was one of ‘those’ people. I can clean up, but it can take years in between. I had to let boxes of books go (to a library) when we downsized and moved here six years ago. So now I have what I can have and collect new ones only on my Kindle. But there’s so much other “stuff”…

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    • I don’t know that being one of “those” people is always a good thing, especially if one’s need for control/anxiety management gets conflated with organization. I’m trying to find a balance by not having so much stuff to organize, but I have to admit to feeling some discomfort at my clean, uncluttered environment – if you strive to be organized as a constant goal, what happens when you finally are? I guess I’m going to find out…

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  13. Loved your post and am envious that you are able to thin out your collections from over the years. I have no problem letting go of things but I run in to interference when it comes to my husband’s treasures. For instance, he still has his stereo and Peavey speakers from when he was a teenager proudly displayed in our living room. I believe it’s been 20 years since the power button has been turned on. I’ve had fantasies of building a custom cabinet around it to hide it. Does that make me a terrible wife?

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    • I’m fortunate in that we all have our own spaces in the house and that the common areas are pretty clear. I’d be tempted to drop tablecloths over those speakers and turn them into end tables, so you’re showing some restraint.
      While I managed the clothes and books pretty well, I’m in the tough phase – craft stuff, paperwork and photos. It is much more time-consuming and takes more ruthlessness. Might have to take a break and rally my mental troops before diving back in!

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  14. I can relate to this on so many levels. I too, get excited to start new projects and have so collected so many supplies for all of my dreamy unfufilled projects. And I find it hard to part with them because I always tell myself I’ll get back into it “when I have time”. Sometimes I have to ask myself though…will I ever find that time?
    Oh and the clothes…I’m in great need of going through them. Sorting and sifting out the old stuff. You know how it goes though…I fear I’ll regret getting rid of something when the time finally comes when I actually might’ve worn it.
    It really is time though. This is just the post i needed to read to get my butt to it.
    I’ve seen that book in bookstore, “The magic of tidying up”. I know I should pick it up soon and read it. And get the advice that I probably need. Just cant bring myself to face the truth yet though. By no means am I a hoarder or anything, I probably only have the average amount of clutter, I’m sure, But I am inspired by your idea of “getting rid of the old, to provide space for NEW creation. That is one of the better ways I’ve heard it put.
    The outside world is so tempting. It’s easy to forget that we already have so much more than we’ll ever need.

    Thanks for admitting these little confessions. Thanks for being real, and for making me feel a little better that I’m not the only has unfinished projects in too many corners.

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    • My whole blog is one rambling confessional, but you’re welcome.

      I’m still in the throes of personal decluttering (the study is the toughest room for me). I try to tell myself that I will honor possessions better if I pass them along so that someone else will use them, instead of them sitting on a shelf, stuffed in a bin, crammed in a drawer.

      The idea that we may someday use something is very tantalizing, until you look at how long you’ve stored it for that day that has yet to come. And not to go all new age, but I think there is something to be said for what your brain registers when you walk into a room, and from every corner screams some project you’ve yet to finish. It’s energy that detracts from the present; it’s something you planned in the past, to do in the future.

      Best wishes to you and thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I found a lot of the philosophies in Marie Kondo’s book resonated with me, and gave me some decluttering approaches that have stood the test of time and helped me not bring in as much to replace that which I decluttered! Now an empty nest, the past year especially I finally feel like I am making headway, rather than 2 steps forward/1 step back as so often is the case. I particularly have taken to heart the idea of trying to only maintain items in the household which bring joy, particularly when it comes to what I wear (stop wearing or holding on to those items which don’t fit, which I spent too much on and did not wear often enough, etc.) and what we have on our walls or shelves (even if given well-intentioned as a gift, but we just don’t enjoy!). I also took several banker’s boxes full of books to the secondhand book shop and have a nice credit there now for future purchases (but need to make more time read what’s on my shelves — both real and digitial — a bit more first!). Happy organizing and decluttering – it is amazing what a weight seems to be lifted as we shed unnecessary “stuff.”

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    • I’m in the weeds now, working my way through paperwork and photographs and mementos. Just chipping away. In the last few weeks, I’ve maintained the wardrobe and book situation with absolutely NO desire to purchase anything. That’s a big win for this process – seeing the nice things that I’ve sent out the door is a clear reminder to be careful in any future purchases.

      I’ve been thinking about mobility and the empty nest thing. We’ve still got about 7 years before our daughter leaves home, but I hope that she travels and moves away to have new experiences and I’d like the mobility to visit her – not having so much stuff (including pets) to worry about. Being older parents, college time for her and retirement for us will likely converge. Less stuff, more experiences. We just have to keep ourselves healthy – both physically and financially!

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  16. Pingback: Room for Joy | The Green Study

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