Monday, February 28, 2011

Know when you need to stop and eat

Here's what I did after crying over the ashtray:

Looked at the clock, saw it was after 2 pm, realized I hadn't had any lunch, and recognized that I had been hauling out and washing and deciding on stuff for several hours and that maybe it was time to a) eat and b) stop.

So I cleared a place to eat at the dining room table, quickly reheated some leftovers so I could get to the eating, and dined while reading the Sunday paper. Then M3I and Charlie came home and I took Charlie skating, then we went to a coffee shop after, and came home on the subway and bus (fun for Charlie!).

As we went around the rink, I felt differently about the old ashtray, now that I was out in the world, watching my lad slowly master the art of skating. I'm not a little kid in the old family room, ignorant of the traumas of the world. I'm a strong, healthy, productive, kind and loving middle-aged woman. I have a good life and a lovely family and a nice gradually-becoming-less-cluttered home.

So when Charlie and I got to that home, I emailed my brother - who has a lot more space - and asked him if he'd like the ashtray. If he doesn't want it, I'll ask my bro who lives out west. If neither want it, it's going to goodwill. I mean I don't even know how long I've had the thing packed away in my boxes. I don't remember my folks' giving it to me. I have 8 zillion other little dishes and bowls that are more attractive.

I think it's important to realize that this decluttering thing is a process. I can't get through the hardest part of the process - my china - all in one day. (I'd also planned to vacuum and clean the main bathroom. Righty-ho!) It's hard work. It's also emotional work, and I have to recognize that when I'm overwhelmed to the point of weeping (plus I needed FOOD), it's time to stop.

But I'm plugging away, right? I've been at this for weeks now. I'm on it. Bit by bit, I'm getting there, and I'm making it easier to stay on top of all this stuff in our lives going forward.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

This item has me in a panic


This ashtray sat on the end table in our family room throughout my entire happy childhood. The family room is part of my soul. My parents didn't smoke, so this item usually just held this and that - usually gum.

Getting rid of it is making me cry. I'm not joking.

I have nowhere to put it - other than in my now-empty top drawer of my dresser. Which doesn't exactly seem like a healthy location, since this process is NOT about hiding stuff; it's about looking at it. M3I doesn't want it around because it's an ashtray.

But sometimes an ashtray isn't just an ashtray.

The decluttering continues - and it's not for the faint of heart

Okay, I'm at a really hard stage. I've had these boxes of my china and glassware in the dining room for a few weeks now. It had been hidden away filling up Charlie's bedroom closet for six years. So, I hauled it out and unpacked most all of it, and chose my favourites to put on display in our two cabinets. And I've been doing some great work, sending lots of stuff to goodwill and into recycling and into the trash. But I know I've been dancing around these boxes because I know it's going to be hard.

This process is about really looking at things, and not just skimming the surface and saying, ah whatever. You know, over the years, I've become quite adept at packing a vast quantity of stuff into small spaces. I've prided myself on being able to accomodate anything new (or found or discovered or given to me/us) bu packing the other stuff away even more efficiently.

And now the china is OUT where I can see it.

The problem is that there's lots of precious beautiful lovely stuff left over that won't fit in either of the two, count 'em two, cabinets. If I hadn't bought Aunt Leah's gorgeous 93-piece white and gold china set three years ago at auction, I'd have plenty of room. In theory, anyway. But thing is I love that china too, and we actually use it. We didn't register for china for our wedding, nor did we ask for any.

Sidebar for people planning a wedding:
Don't register for china or try to buy any! There are so many, many, many stunning, lovely, beautiful, expansive sets available out there at antique shops, shows and malls, not to mention auction houses (keep going, you'll find a set you love). I got my set, which includes a whole bunch of serving pieces, including three platters, for $180 - about the cost of one platter, new. It's slightly worn, since Leah used it and was a wonderful cook, it makes me a lot less hysterical about using it. Plus the wornness gives it a lovely tactile smoothness, plus you can think of all the delicious holiday meals of the past. (See what I mean about the meaning of things?)

Here's all my Leah china. It's Limoge, which isn't one of the fanciest names in China, but it's really nice.






Okay, now I've got to stop shillyshallying in front of the computer.

Back to the business at hand.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Magazines

Anybody who's known me a lot time - and anybody who has ever helped me move - knows I have a thing for magazines. Which translates to I have a lot of 'em.

Before M3I and I moved in together a decade ago, I had two piles of mags (not including the ones in my to-be-read and my to-be-reread pile and also not including the ones on the back of the toilet and the ones on the coffee table in the living room). Both piles were just a bit higher than my dresser. So, let's see, that was two piles (excluding the above-mentioned) of 36 inches (roughly 90 cm), or one stack 6 feet high.

Slowly over the years I've been whittling away at it. Anticipating Charlie's birth, I gave up one of my bookshelves. A lot of magazines went out the door at that time. And over the years, I've gotten a wee bit better at... well, I was going to say better at not letting them accumulate, but that's not quite it. I haven't bought as many. For one, I'm busier in my off-hours than I was when I was single, plus we live really close to a public library, and I can binge on print for free, and then I have to give the stack back.

But now, I'm really decluttering. And it's having to include magazines. For example, two weeks ago, I was able to get rid of (which means putting down in the little reading room adjascent to the laundry room) a good size pile.

But since then, I've noticed the stack on the back of the toilet is getting too tall to fit my little travel bag on top of it (there's a shelf above), and I noticed there's a stack beside my bed, plus a milk crate full of them in the bedroom closet, plus one of the bookshelves in that close was also stacked with them.

Today I'm going to boil it down to the essentials. My goal is one stack that will fit in that spot under my travel bag. And it has to include the Style at Home and the Canadian Geographic I got in the mail yesterday. In short, it has to be One Stack, and that's all. Like I want to have fewer magazines that most normal people would have in their home, like in a magazine rack.

Not only that, Charlie and I are also going to sort his art materials, and go tobagganing. Wish me luck!

***

Okay, I'm back.

Here's what's left - and I mean really left. This is all. There are none in the walk-in closet in the bedroom and none on the floor in the bedroom and none in the ensuite (M3I has some in the bedroom, but I ain't gettin' rid of his (yet)). There are none in the living room. There are none under the bed or beside the bed. Just these, on the dining room table.

I got rid of:
Esquires (including anniversary editions),
People,
Canadian Geographic,
New Yorker,
New York magazine (including anniversary editions),
Toronto Life (including anniversary editions),
Harpers (including an anniversary edition from 1952),
Natural Home,
The Economist,
Us,
Bust,
More,
Our Canada,
In Style,
BBC Homes & Antiques,
ROM magazine,
Equinox,
Chatelaine,
MoneySense,
Today's Parent,
Style at Home,
Vogue,
Canadian House & Home,
and last but not least Shameless!
(I was going to link them all, but I gotta have a shower - we're actually going out for dinner!)

So, ta-dah!
This is all that's left.

That's it.

*applause?*

Friday, February 25, 2011

One wheeled therapy

I was blogging quiet inside my head this morning (a process formerly known as thinking) about how burnt out I was feeling. Lately I've been doing a gigantic amount of frenzied copywriting and tweaking, while rushing to attend various meetings announcing Very Exciting New Projects(TM) that will require more clever copywriting.

As I walked up the hill, snow fell all around me. I'm still coming in early, so it was quiet and a bit gloomy. *Sigh*

Just then, from between two apartment buildings, a jaunty fellow appeared, wearing a tweed newsboy cap, scarf and backpack, and he was riding a unicycle.

I have to say, I felt a zing of delight, and my gloom was gone.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Getting the worm

I had a small revelation last Friday.

Typically, I sleep until around 7:15, which had been creeping along to 7:30 and sometimes even 7:40. Last Friday, I had to attend a workshop at a hotel roughly 40 minutes away -- and registration and breakfast was scheduled for 7:30. Argh.

I was dreading this rude adjustment to my comfy sched, which was increasingly frequently excluding a shower - a) for lack of time, b) lack of desire to wash, and c) the water pressure stinks in the morning.

To make it easier, I (cleverly) set the timer on my coffee maker for 6:30 to help ease the grumpiness that I knew would ensue. The heady scent of the morning coffee and the promise it held would surely motivate me to get out of bed at that unearthly hour.

And a new addiction was born.

Yes, the coffee worked! That soft burbling sound made me even a bit cheerful! And in M3I's fabulous vault-like travel mug, the stuff stayed warm - in the freezing cold car - even until after the workshop!

Plus, the water pressure in the shower is fab. Who knew a shower could be so wonderful?

So all this week (well, not Family Day Monday, obvs), I've been getting up early, getting to work early (lawd, it's busy at werk), having time to match my jewelry properly to my outfit. And, today, since I'm not going in early cuz I take Charlie to choir on Thursdays, I'm sipping my coffee and blogging.

I wonder if it's part of the decluttering trend? Feels like it a bit. We'll see. But it feels good!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I am positively chuffed!

A gift was bestowed upon me today! Thank you Lynne. You totally made my day.

Meet Penelope, the empathetic Monster, surrounded by a homespun hand-knitted scarf.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Emo crayon set

Swim With The Shallow: The Loneliest Crayon

I stumbled upon this website this morning via this tweet. Take a look - it'll make you snort & chortle at your desk!

Swim With The Shallow: The Loneliest Crayon: "EP"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

One of the treasures I've unearthed


How are things in guacamole?

I found this great card this weekend - a keeper. I got this way back in college from a dear friend (who remains a dear friend). She was in the States, I was up here, and we hadn't been in touch in awhile. All she did was sign it, with love. No big messages, no OMG I haven't heard from you why haven't you written, just this fun little message that told me she was thinking about me.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Decluttering is like panning for gold

That little red book is still working on me: I sorted through a rubbermaid bin containing 30 years' of cards and letters this weekend. And discarded into the recycling bin about ninety percent of it. What's left fits into a manila envelope.

The book is working some magic on me for two reasons:
1. In terms of typical motivations for keeping stuff, I discovered I have much in common with problem hoarders; this scared the hell out of me;
2. The authors presented a truly workable mindset: getting rid of birthday and graduation cards from Dziadek or Granny or Auntie Helen doesn't mean I'm getting rid of them or my memories of their love, or what they stood for in my life.
3. Plus the book presented cases of some lovely, intelligent people who successfully got rid of all kinds of emotionally laden stuff and were happier for it. This reassured me that they were not riddled with regret at having parted with their treasures, as I've feared I would be.

How I got rid of so much emotionally loaded stuff this weekend
Don't bother reading if this isn't an issue for you. And don't mock or make fun. It's serious. You don't know what it's like to be me. (Hmm, she's a bit defensive, no?)

Because I tend to attach a lot of meaning to things (including cards, books, letters, articles, clothing, jewelry, knickknacks, magazines, teacups, and antiquey items, especially if they're made of wood), I'll admit it was a tough, emotional slog.

I did it through a combination of sorting and dumping. I allowed myself to keep just my absolute very favourite cards and letters. Going along, I sorted each "keep" into alphabetical order - so as to keep track of, say, how many of Granny's cards I'm keeping - but dumped the obvious "don't keeps" right away (which meant stuffing a bunch into a recycling bag and a to-be-shredded bag so they weren't staring at me reproachfully).

It soon became clear that I didn't have to keep all 15 birthday cards from my grandmother - so I've kept my favourite one, the one I actually remember receiving, that she signed with, "Good luck! Good Health! Much happiness! Much love!"

Pretty cold eh? No, no, I'm still me. Plus nobody's saying get rid of the entire contents of your home - you need to be engaged and use your brains and judgement. Being willy nilly about it is NOT being in control of your stuff. Making conscious intelligent decisions IS.

Back to the cards from Granny. In addition to that one card I've chosen to keep, I have some special items of hers that I received after she passed away which I actively treasure, like a purple rhinestone necklace, a pair of green and silver embroidered silk shoes and a pair of soft white kid gloves - all of which fit me perfectly and have value to me outside the sentimental. The individual cards I had from her in storage for 30 years I'd mostly forgotten about - except for that one with the message that made me smile.

For those of you who are wanting to do this, to get rid of all this "stuff", try to just pick your favourite things. Then sort those favourites to keep your absolute favourites. Gently, kindly, let the rest go

And to get you excited about it, I have to stress to you how fun it is. Yep, it's tough, but it's like panning for gold. You are shaking out the detritus that's weighing down your life and you're keeping only the best. You're in control.

How to get zero hits on your blog

It's a first! This obviously isn't a hugely read blog, but I managed to get precisely zero hits last week.

Should you aspire to such depths, I suggest "orthodontic appliances" as a worthwhile topic. If you want to go into negative numbers with your readers deleting previous visits to your blog, take a photo of them and post it too. (M3I begged me to just throw away the appliances and don't for the love of god let Charlie see them. Charlie is clearly going to need braces and we don't want the site of my old ones to give him nightmares.)

You want a lot of blog hits, you could try something like, "how I broke up Ryan and Scarlett's marriage". (Ha-HA! Wouldn't you like to know what we get up to here in the Great White North!)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Gleep

Oh dear sweet lord, I just found my orthodontic appliances. Yes, in the top drawer of my dresser, which I'm cleaning out for the first time in *cough cough*.

Three sets; each designed to space my young palate and jaw in a different way to accomodate my many, many teeth in my small, small mouth. I had a series of these mouthpieces over nine years. The only thing I liked about them was that they weren't train tracks*. I had an unholy fear of getting train tracks.

The last time I wore an appliance was 1982.




*The reason I didn't get train tracks was that my dentist didn't believe in pulling permanent teeth to create space. He was convinced it ruined kids' profiles, and I know what he means. Lots of kids in my high school, lots!, had their second bicuspids removed by their orthodontists, and definitely got a slightly sunken upper lip as a result. Can you tell I spent a lot of time at the dentist's office? Over those nine years, I went to the dentist to get the appliance cranked, or to have impressions taken, or to have baby teeth removed. Full disclosure: I find dentistry to be quite fascinating** (which is only one reason why I kept my appliances), and also my mom worked for several dentists over many years.

**Last time I went to the dentist (December), the hygienist told me about a friend of hers who is a dental anthropologist - an amazing field of science. After I mumbled an enthusiastic wow, she said to me, now don't get excited, my friend hardly makes any money at all. She can look at your molars and tell you what part of the world your ancient ancestors came from, but she hardly makes anything for it.

Destuffing


I'm doing it! I've had the stuffing knocked out of me, and now I'm actually really and truly, earnestly getting rid of a significant quantity of my stuff.

My personal catalyst? A fabulous book, called, well, Stuff - Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee.

What a promising title, I thought! The Meaning of Things - right up my alley. I'm am a person who assigns a great deal of meaning to my things.

The wonderful thing about this book, which has *bing* turned on a big lightbulb in my brain, is that it showed me that I'm not the only one who holds onto stuff because:
- I want to hold onto the feeling an item gives me
- I want to remember what things were like during the time said item first came into my posession (or was published)
- I feel sorry for the item because if I get rid of it, it'll know I don't want it and it'll somehow feel bad (yeah, I know it sounds nutty to people who don't feel this way, but to me, it's real)

More reasons I hold onto stuff:
- the person who gave me the item or card has passed away
- the person who gave me the item will pass away someday
- the person who gave me the item may come over one day and demand to see evidence that I've hung onto it

And even more reasons that I hold onto stuff:
- the item might come in handy when I start sewing/crafting/painting/knitting/crocheting/cardmaking/gourmet-cooking/having-big-dinner-parties/having-dainty-tea-parties/doing-mosaics/writing-a-novel
- if I run out of things to do I can sort through my stuff
- if I run out of things to read, I can read all those magazines and old notes and essays and articles
- I don't have time to sort through everything
- I'm looking forward to sorting through everything and I want to postpone that enjoyment
- I'm overwhelmed by the thought of sorting through everything

People, whether they have big hoarding issues or not, hold onto stuff for a zillion different reasons.

A lot of stuff I've kept is from my single days when I lived alone. I lived on my own for roughly 13 years, and sometimes I was lonely and sometimes I was bored, and somewhere along the line I had a terrifying 6-week bout of clinical depression, and having this stuff around - and tucked away - made me feel cozier, like I wasn't alone. A bit of agorphobia thrown in, and you've got an anxious chick who gets comfort from having stuff.

Plus, there've been things I can recall getting rid of and then, OMG!, regretting. A pink wool cardigan and an old, very cool issue of New York magazine from the 80s, just for starters (actually those are the only two things I can think of).

Here's the part that made the lightbulb turn on:
This marvelous book, Stuff, showed me that there are a whole freaking bunch folks out there who have a LOT more stuff than I do, and much more intense issues with parting with it.

And they have successfully divested themselves of it, and NOT felt bereft, empty, lonely, sad, or regretful. They're happier.

I'm prepared to face a few more regrets. I feel strongly that it's part of the territory. But if the folks in the book can do it, so can I.

I want to enjoy our little home more. I'm embarassed by all my stuff. We don't have goat paths, but I've been hanging onto a number of cardboard boxes full of magazines, china, etc. Plus my stuff is weighing me down, and I've lost some items that I just know are in this place somewhere, and it's just time to do it. I'm finally ready.

Here's what I've decided to discard since I finished the book:

- A whole bunch of my china to sell at The Singing Lady Consignment Emporium, run by a dear friend of mine.

- A ton of just plain old stuff, including some books and clothes, to send to Goodwill.

- A big stack of magazines to go downstairs in the building's laundry room (it has a reading room).

- Roughly 10 old work notebooks, and an 18-inch-high stack of paper, including old stuff I've written, magazines I've been published in (like, who needs 5 copies of the Financial Post Corporate Elite?), and notes.

Charlie even found my old mood ring, which he and I have been looking for for weeks. It was in a flowered metal tea tin curiously located in the hinterland that is my top dresser drawer. It seems I haven't actually removed anything from that drawer in about 20 years, judging by its contents.

I'm doing it. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Forty-seven minus one

Hoo-boy, what a week, eh? As I was packing up my stuff to leave the office at the end of the day today, my techie colleague who sits in front of me asked me for my opinion: he was going out to buy his mom a birthday present; he had something in mind, but wasn't sure.

How old's your mom, I foolishly asked.

Uh, 46. Says he.

Whassat? Forty-six? My work colleague's MOTHER is turning FORTY-BLEEPING-SIX?

And so it begins.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Al Jazeera English

I didn't know it was so easy to get Al Jazeera English - live streaming online. Kewl!

And at the moment, on As it Happens on CBC Radio, they're talking about the fact that the U.S. won't let AJE broadcast. At all! Holy keerap!

If you're in the States, try the link above and let me know if you get anything.

Plus, you can get some excellent reporting on world issues from Democracy Now. Seriously, I've never heard a better interviewer than Amy Goodman. She is a true journalist. Most will treat the powerful with kid gloves, but Amy's a total pro.