Room for Joy

As I wrote in my last post, I’m making room for my present life by letting go of much of the past. It’s a slow process, because handling each of items I’ve surrounded myself with, from clothes to books to mementos, means I’m also dealing with the emotions attached to them.

My focus is driven by a few ideas that have stuck with me.

What We Leave Behind

As you get older, more people you know and more people they know, die. Estates have to be processed, possessions sorted and distributed. For years, I’ve heard about the nightmare that the process becomes – from bickering siblings to overwhelming hoarding and undue burdens passed to the next generation.

canstockphoto30538200

We don’t have one of these, but we have an impressive number of flashlights.

My husband and I are the products of working class families. There are no heirlooms or antiques that have been trundled along from generation to generation. So everything we’d leave behind would be something with which our daughter would have to deal. I like my kid and I’d prefer her resentment of me to end sometime before the grave and not be something that would linger for years after – unlike that voice in her head that sounds remarkably like me.

Sometimes that divvying up of a loved one’s possessions helps to process grief, but more often than not, it ends up in a storage garage someplace to be dealt with by a reality TV show or a relative who didn’t much care for you when you were alive and has even less feeling for your stuff.

There are things that I do want to leave her. A journal I started writing soon after she was born – all about her development milestones and lessons that I might have missed passing along to her in daily life. Pictures – digitized, sorted, clearly labelled and easily transported (via USB stick or DVD). My wedding ring – the band that I had to stop wearing after I got pregnant – a symbol of the love her parents shared, but of so little monetary value as to put all this wedding hyperbole into perspective.

These are, coincidentally, the same things I’d grab in case of a fire. Maybe. If the family and cats are out already.

Burning Bridges, Shredding Ties, Letting Go

I’ve been slowly sorting through photographs. Scanning, labeling and saving them takes a lot of time. There are services that do this. They’re often pricey and my guess is that you’d give them all your pictures, since it is so convenient. I’ve decided to take the harder route, because it’s my thing. I figure that if I have to look at and decide if I’m going to spend 5 minutes scanning them, I am likely to eliminate more.

canstockphoto22009649Easiest to eliminate are scenery photos. There are always better quality pictures on the internet. A pedestrian camera, combined with my weak photography skills meant that many are fuzzy. Now when I travel, I tend to buy postcards. Those are usually professional photos if I need to remind myself where I’ve been.

Old flames. I have some couple pictures from the past, hesitating to let them go for the sake of my memory. There’s one with the very first person I was engaged to. We were young and so damned perky. But I freaked over too many hints from him, involving hordes of children and white picket fences. I wasn’t ready. But our romance was sweet and we both have our own families now. Those photos make me smile, so I’ll scan them in.

canstockphoto8098470There are pictures from a serious relationship where the dude was a drunk and abusive and I hadn’t quite cottoned on to the fact that I might have daddy issues. Most of the pictures are of us at bars, parties and beer fests. Might have been a hint. I don’t get a good feeling from those pictures. He wasn’t as attractive as I remembered and each picture has a story. Oh, that was the night he punched a wall and broke his hand. Look here, on a beach in the Mediterranean, where he refused to speak to me for half the trip because of a jealous rage. Why would I give five more minutes of my life, scanning in my shit history? Shredded.

In some ways, it feels like I’m sanitizing my past, but I’ve already learned the lessons. I don’t need a reminder that I made bad choices. It just feels like bad juju to hold onto that stuff, even in digital form. I’m not good at forgiving myself for mistakes, so it feels ritualistic – all that shredding and destroying of things that remind me.

Joy, or a Facsimile Thereof

The book that helped kick off this decluttering bender was Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. She’s a little extreme for me. Since I’m someone who prefers deadpan delivery over hyperbole, the word “joy” seems over the top. Still, if I translated into my language “muted pleasure” or “benign contentment”, it’s a concept that works. We should derive pleasure out of the things we possess. Not surface satisfaction, but a real acknowledgement that we want this particular thing in our lives and if it’s not exactly pleasure, then it must serve a current, useful purpose.

canstockphoto9987395The environment in my study is now a little uncomfortable. Everywhere there are books I like, things I’m currently working on and items that bring me aesthetic pleasure. The psychological weight of stuff – the bad memories, the shoulds, these things no longer deliver a mental flick every time I turn around. There is space physically and mentally, that I did not have before. I am loathe to refill it and am determined to keep reminding myself I have everything I need. Maybe the joy is en route and I just need to sit in this awkward room and listen for its arrival. Now that I’ve got the space.

31 Comments on “Room for Joy

  1. I suspect “the muted pleasure of tidying up” is a turn of phrase that will give me the giggles for some time yet to come!

    On a slightly tangential note, your discussion reminded me of something a therapist said once, in a group I attended. One of the other participants was frustrated that she didn’t feel happier: “and isn’t that the point? aren’t I supposed to feel HAPPY??!” His response was that while happiness is a perfectly nice emotion, it’s still just an emotion and will ebb and flow like all the rest. A more productive goal, in his estimation, was to strive for -satisfaction- instead. A more muted pleasure, to be sure! But ever so much more durable and useful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think sometimes that’s a problem with the whole positivity movement. Hallmark happiness is simply not in my purview, so I feel alienated by the language. Contentment, satisfaction – these seem attainable and rarely unbearably perky.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I completely relate to the thinking in this post. I’m always trying to weed out possessions and digital things. I kept remembering the title of a play I was in during high school: You can’t take it with you.

    So true and still hard to do. But I’m hoping to have a life of less stuff and just nice life lessons and memories.

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    • I think the effort of maintaining stuff was starting to get to me, too. It’s nice to walk into a room that has just what it needs and nothing more. The trick is maintaining that stuff equilibrium – never acquiring too much while taking care of what we have. Hopefully this has all been a giant step in the right direction.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ooh. This sounds wonderfully therapeutic. I have hordes of archive boxes filed with photo. Perhaps a spring clean is in order. Why am I keeping them? Perhaps I’ll read one of the books you recommend!

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    • I think it might be a bigger challenge for you, since you have some photography skills. Some of my photos are truly awful and yet I’ve lugged them around the country and overseas for years.

      One of my husband’s uncles died and we ended up with containers of unlabeled photos, which I mistakenly spent hours scanning into a digital family tree album. They mean nothing without connections and names. I definitely don’t want to leave that to someone else.

      Beyond books, there’s tons of YouTube videos (I watched a lot of those). A particular favorite is Andrew Mellen, but there are tons more.

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    • I’m starting to think about the flip side of decluttering, which is to change my acquisition habits. Although, after all of this work, I do not want to bring a single thing into my home. We’ll see how long that feeling lasts!

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  4. My wife is in the midst of this, inspired by that same book. I like to watch from afar, and to do a bit myself, but not with the same zeal. I think I already live pretty lean, but I am a bit like a ferret too, hiding sparkly things under the sofa. But scanning photos as you, no way. I’ll leave that for my kids to deal with.

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    • I didn’t find the book particularly inspiring. I feel like much of what she said I’ve heard from organizers before (I imagine some of them are fuming at this latest “fad”). But it was a nice accompaniment to the mission.

      I lived pretty lean until the last 15 years or so. Disposable income and living in an owned house for the first time in my life was the tipping point. It doesn’t take much to make me feel overwhelmed with abundance. There are things about being mobile and poor that were lost, I think, and I feel the need to get back to some of my roots.

      And the photos. Ugh. I was never one for scrapbooking, but I do want to maintain a decent family history. Most of my family is scattered or dead, so it seems a little more important to get things labelled.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Monday is the day I make my house a little lighter. It’s trash day and I love taking it to the curb. Every year I work on editing “my stuff,” and the task never seems to end.

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  6. I’ve also been working on sorting and letting go. Mostly because I’m unemployed, and looking to keep myself from going crazy. Yes! I think ‘joy’ is a bit much…but I like the idea of ‘muted pleasure’ as a baseline.

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    • Having the time to do it is a bit of a blessing. Although, I wouldn’t discount it as a weekend project for the gainfully employed. I figure I might not have time later on, so might as well take advantage of it now. Muted pleasure is pretty much my apex, but it seems attainable!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What an enjoyable and thoughtful post. I especially liked your filter for the photos: ” I’ve already learned the lessons. I don’t need a reminder that I made bad choices….” I keep images that evoke people and experiences that felt essentially loving; like you, I am grateful for those reminders, and glad to let the rest go.

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    • I’m still not sure why I’ve been lugging these photos around for years, but it feels good to unload them. The lovely things about the really old, icky ones is that they’re not digital, so gone is gone.
      It will be interesting what arises in their place – hopes are for more good memories and experiences.

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  8. I read this in my email rather than online. Something weird happened with the comment that matched up with the candelabra thingy. It printed next to the photo in with the text. I only noticed it when I liked the publication and it automatically opened the link to the webpage. Just an oddity I thought I’d mention. (Apparently, I am not adverse to cluttering your website with unnecessary and awkward things.)

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  9. My therapist adores that book. Since I’m a minimalist already, I balked at learning how to fold my 3 tee shirts correctly.

    Have you thought about spreading out the stuff in your study to take care of any gaping holes? I like letting my beloved junk breathe.

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  10. We recently went through a bunch of old family slides to have scanned and skipped a lot of the landscape photos (there were so many more than people shots). You’re a good parent to think ahead about what you’ll leave behind.

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  11. We all struggle with stuff, don’t we? I’m not a hoarder, but I cannot accept the extreme rigidity of minimalism, so I keep too many things around, then mutter about how they’re in my way. Just a product of my suburban ways, I suppose.

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