Friday, February 21, 2014

Shedding the Clutter

Thank God the Olympics are ending. I mean that literally.  I have developed one very nasty habit of turning on the TV each morning while cleaning dog bowls and making breakfast for 33 animals, knowing full good and well Olympics (while triumph fodder for athletes globally) slows me (locally) to half speed.
My preferred morning ritual is silence, but given that weather is a big part of farm life, I’ve rationalized that click of the remote as necessary and as a result, I mindlessly became addicted to the promos, the teases, the “up next” allure of all these people living their dreams. Next week, I’m changing my tune, as there is a definite difference in my thoughts, feelings and my outlook on those days when I turn the TV off and do my morning routines with love and intention. It’s what the monks call a waking meditation, and I believe with all my heart that the energy going into food preparation, is as important as nutrients IN the food itself (if not more so), so now that I’ve backslidden, it’s time to own up and readjust my sails.
The biggest part of any farmer’s life (if not every life) is a repeat of recurring habits and patterns. In my case, this includes cleaning dog bowls, filling water buckets, mixing food, toting dishes to their respective recipients, etc., etc. This does not include time consumed picking up each puppy along the way because they’re so danged adorable, only to do it all over again with goat babies when outside.
When not slipping into mindless voyeurism of television coverage that matters not in the least to my life or that of my critters, I also find repeat rituals  the perfect time for one of two mental exercises 1) Silence: give the hour over to pure prayer, thought, anticipation/visualization of the day ahead, or 2) Positive Input: be it books on tape or a Marianne Williams lecture, after all, if  “garbage in" means "garbage out” does it not stand to reason that “positive in” might better my odds of having a “positive outcome” to my day?
Granted we all start out with the same number of hours. Best I can tell, for all our time saving devices, nobody seems to be saving any. If I can double up-- have my hands tackling a task while my mind wraps itself around something helpful and uplifting, why would I not race to do this?
Today, as I weaned myself off the last of the coverage (Thank you Today Show, for making it easier: I didn’t need to see Savannah Guthrie playing fake tennis with an ice skater or Al Roker getting a full body massage, but to be fair, I really didn't need to see all those ski jumpers either.) I reached for the last thing I was reading (i.e. listening to) before my TV addiction took over...Already I’m feeling better.
The book is SHED, by Julie Morgenstern. The longer title: When Organizing Isn’t Enough SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life, literally screamed at me while trading in some used books the other day at McKay’s.
Having confessed my tendency to keep things past their shelf life in earlier blogs, I decided I needed to hear what this expert had to say, for clearly, if it were as simple as just tidying up a corner here or a file drawer there, I’d have done it already. Obviously, this clutter problem has deeper roots, after all, we’re a nation of consumers and unless we’re mindful when we’re buying (and I contend most of us aren’t) stuff coming in has to go somewhere….In my house, it’s usually in a corner.
So what is the underlying reason I hold onto things? Maybe if Julie here can help me get beneath the surface and help me understand WHY I (and most Americans) have this problem, I can turn this mess around.
Until now, I’ve blamed my basement (my desk, my drawers, my car) on one of three things:
1)                   I’m creative, and creatives, as a rule, are a messy lot. In my radio days I had a plaque on my desk that read: Creative minds are seldom tidy; it’s now in a bin somewhere in my garage because…
2)                   I’m sentimental. From pictures of past radio days now lining walls going down to the basement: me with President Bush; me doing a telethon; me with Garth Brooks. Things to remind me that I used to be somebody I guess. Nobody sees these things but me, and I hung them on basement walls only to keep from moving them one more time. Still and so, I don’t feel I’m a nobody just for giving up a mic... so why the need to hold onto these memories? (In my upstairs living quarters, the pictures are mostly of family and friends. These I understand; these stay. I’m not worried about that sentimental tendency.)
3)                   I’m busy. Given the chance to talk with Thurman when he calls (as happens often when planning a garden when looking for windows between storms to get things ready is key) …or turning off my phone to focus on removing a stack of clutter, well, life wins over stackable stuff any day.  Add to that 7 adorable puppies, 5 new baby goats and all the other critters I had already carved out time for before embarking on this journey, and, well, let’s just say I’m finding I use this excuse way too often these days.

So whatever Miss Morgenstern has to say about my psyche, I’m all ears.  Today, I ponder the question she poses as I’m scrubbing poop off a basement floor: Who are you without all your stuff?

Julie makes some very profound observations as she challenges clients who pay her to help them re-direct their thinking on these matters. The one that got me through the dog bowl ritual was “Name your theme.”

According to Julie, we hold onto things for a reason. Most of us go so fast in our day to day that we don’t think beneath the surface on why we keep repeating a bad habit, hoping for a different outcome (that old definition of insanity) but what’s REALLY going on here?

Julie suggests for starters, that we trash nothing, but instead, spend a week separating out our treasures. Sure I want to keep the last Valentine my daddy sent me, but do I really need to hold onto the unopened heartshape box of candy as well?

I’ve transferred some 2,000 Beyond Reason radio shows to MP3s, so why can I not bring myself to trash the original 2,000 cassettes I’m calling “back up”?

Clearly something in me is holding onto something. Maybe I’m thinking that one day, on my death bed I’ll go back and listen to myself learning how to craft a question and will only have a hand held tape recorder to do it on, but honestly, do I not need the space those tapes are taking up? I mean, seriously....they take up the space of a car, which is why my Jeep is in the driveway.

My aha moment… that one thing that led me to believe “I can do this” (maybe not quickly, but I felt a crack in the iceberg today)…was when Julie suggested I hold each item I’m contemplating shedding, and FEEL its energy as I ask myself, does this move me forward or take me backwards? Does it uplift or drag me down? If the item SLOWS energy (energy I need for projects on the horizon, not the least of which is a garden, another cookbook and some video production) then I need to shed it, as it is not enhancing my momentum on the dreams I wish to live nor is it helping my theme for this chapter of my life.

I can’t do it in a day (nor was the mess made in a day), but I can do ONE thing a day…A bin here, a box there. I’m usually pretty good at tackling little goals, so my decision today, even with all I have on the agenda, is to stop and FEEL—even if just ONE thing—from a pile of inanimate stuff…the same way I’d stop to FEEL the love of a puppy or FEEL the nose-nudgings of a baby goat. I’m going to FEEL, to see if that box of old love letters has any positive vibe for me anymore, cause quite frankly, I’m not sure why I saved 'em anyway and I think I could FEEL pretty darn good about having my space back (both in my garage, and in my mind).

By naming a theme for where we are in our lives…as in “Those were my radio years, these are my writing years” Julie suggests we have a mental picture against which to weigh our things…By holding the bigger picture in focus, then holding the clutter item next to it, it becomes easier to give things a thumbs up or thumbs down as to whether or not we’re moving toward or away from our goal. I’m sure none of us meant to allow our old junk—our accumulated past—to get in our way. The challenge as I see it, is shifting from a state of mindlessness to mindFULness (as became my habit in watching Olympic coverage, as is similarly my pattern when it comes to saving the old window treatments from my first apartment).
Julie defines clutter as “That which no longer serves”~ Boy, if I can wrap my mind around that one, well gosh darn, Katie Bar the Door!

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