Soul Clutter

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By Dave

 

I had one project this summer,

Only one mind you,

But it was a doozy.

 

The job was to clean the house.

And no, I don’t mean clean

Like sort the mail or do the dishes

Or find a place for that box of childhood memorabilia.

 

The kind of cleaning I’m talking about

Is a deep, thorough, down to the roots,

Touch absolutely everything you own,

And determine whether you need it,

Someone else can have it

Or the trash truck gets to devour it the following Tuesday

Kind of cleaning.

 

It’s the kind of work you put off until next summer

And the one after that and the one after that.

Because it’s the kind of work no one really wants to do.

 

Who wants to go through every single thing they own,

Weigh it in the balance of need versus want

Versus guilt because you spent good money

On something you haven’t used since who can remember when?

 

Box after box, bin after bin,

Is consigned to a trip

To the local charity giveaway store.

 

You fill your car’s trunk a dozen times

But it’s still not enough,

Not enough to shed years of detritus,

Items that have outlived their usefulness

But are still protected by the self-delusion

That they must be saved at all costs,

Including your sanity.

 

But when the work is done,

And the rooms are clean

And everything, every single thing

Has a home of its own,

Then the work,

Both mental and physical,

Will have been worth it.

 

While this is true for the clutter in your home,

It also is true for the clutter in your soul,

The things that cling to you like barnacles to a boat.

 

Worries, fear, insecurities—

These all fill the rooms of your innermost being,

Crowding out and covering over

The good and precious parts of your true self.

 

We hold on to them out of obligation, out of guilt,

Out of the habit that tells us we absolutely must do so

Because we deserve no better.

 

The poetic charge of Thomas Jefferson

Compels us to pursue happiness,

But we assume that command is for ones far more deserving.

 

For us, the simple ones who live ordinary lives,

We trudge on from task to task, from sleep to sleep.

Doing what comes next without thinking about

What should come next.

 

What would it look like

If our souls were as clutter free

As the homes we have chosen to clean?

 

Would we find the Joy that went missing

When the Drive and Purpose were given up for lost?

 

The outer affects the inner

As does the inner impact the outer,

An infinite loop of possibility or perdition.

 

So, clean up. Clean up, I say.

Inside and out, make it all clean.

Declare war on clutter, as it has declared war on you.

 

And, when you get buried

Under literal and figurative piles

Of debris and remnants of the past,

Remember these words,

Chanted by So Cal sports fans for years:

“Fight On!”

Sorting Wheat & Chaff

Wheat Medium
Creative Commons photo by Orangeaurochs 

By Dave

One of the biggest challenges when minimizing your life is that you have to really think through things as you are sort the stuff that fills your closets and drawers (and floors and chairs as the case may be). What do you keep and what do you discard (or donate)?

If you set up a criteria for things you will hold on to or pass on to others (like my brilliant wife has), this makes the job much easier. Something as simple as 1) Do you love it? 2) Do you use it? 3) Can it be replaced easily and affordably if the need for it arises again?

Sentimentality, however, tends to be your primary foe when it comes to this battle. Being careful and thorough in this process can help you give/throw away that which you do not need and keep that which you might have discarded. Here are a couple examples from my own decluttering journey:

My Class Key —Yes, I was one of those people who bought whatever my class ring company was selling (Well, not everything, but who can resist a class key?). For someone who desperately wanted to be popular, this item was tailor-made for me. But I am not that lonely teenager any longer, so when I came across it again, I should have discarded it immediately. Instead, it clung to me like the One Ring to Gollum. But, as my bride astutely pointed out, it must have not been that important if only the day before I couldn’t have told you I still owned the item. If it hadn’t mattered to me in years, there is no reason to think its intrinsic value would magically blossom from this point forward. 

My First-Year Teacher Journal — I was sorting through old files and throwing away as much outdated paperwork as I could, when I came upon my file for my teaching credential program. Discarding the teaching evaluations from that very difficult year was easy (actually, I shredded them as a form of therapy) and I was on the verge of getting rid of everything else when I came across my required journal entries for the spring semester.

My first reaction was to dump them in an attempt to forget the pain of that year. Thankfully, I decided to read them one last time, and I was so glad that I did. All of the passages gave me brief glimpses into the struggles of that year, but the final entry of the year was so eye-opening. Those couple of paragraphs were filled with my hopes and fears for my teaching career and spoke to me in way few other things could. Had I been hasty, these thoughts would have been resigned to the recycle bin. But a few extra minutes kept this important document preserved for my career scrapbook album and for posterity.

So, when rifling through the accumulated detritus of your life, feel free to take an extra moment or two to separate the wheat from the chaff. 

Conquering Closet Chaos

IMG_2583By Renée

It’s been a couple of months since our master closet purge and it has produced some unexpected results. The most amazing thing is the fact I no longer have to see items I don’t wear. Before, I would peruse my wardrobe looking for the right outfit for the day and my eyes would inevitably land on two blouses I purchased three years ago but had only worn once. I had two completely valid reasons for keeping them that long (or so I thought):

  1. I spent good money on them. 
  2. I was sure I would wear them again at some point. 

But of course that point never came. Every time I would see these items I would feel a slight uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. I suppose it was the feeling of regret over having spent money on something I wasn’t wearing. Now that I have gotten rid of everything I wasn’t wearing, I no longer feel that uneasiness. Everything in my closet fits and are things I actually wear and like. 

Now I can open the closet and find what I’m looking for. Another upside is that I can put laundry away without needing a crowbar. Our clothes fit and have room to breathe. I have learned a valuable lesson about keeping things I’m not wearing and hopefully that will inform my future shopping.

 

Done vs. Perfect = No Contest

IMG_3068By Dave

We kept putting it off and putting it off.

The pieces of artwork sat framed on the floor, leaning up against walls or furniture. They may have been out of the way, but they were adding to the cluttered chaos of the dining room.

While I had been able to look past them, my wife was not. Enough was enough. We were going to put them up that Saturday, and time was not a factor.

So, while food was cooking in the oven, we grabbed a hammer, a stepladder, some nails and went to work. Rather than obsessing as we normally do, we let our eyeballs do most of the measuring.

The paintings went up in short order and, instead of having a cluttered mess, we had three pieces of art on our walls, giving our bedroom in particular the feel of a boutique hotel suite.

How long did this all take? Not the 2-3 hours I feared it would. A mere 20-30 minutes was all that was required for the task.

My wife is known for asking the question: Do you want it perfect or do you want it done? This project was a reminder that the answer to the question is often a simple one.

Done beats perfect almost every time.

Let’s see if we can apply that lesson to our next project.

On the Road to the Minimal Master Closet

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Before we purged the master bedroom closet.

By Renée

I’ve read a number of books on minimalism. One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog was to document the process instead of writing from a place of fait accompli. I felt so many of these books are being written so long after the actual house-wide purge that it’s hard for the authors to remember life as it was. When we started this experiment we were drowning in stuff and looking for a way out. Is minimalism going to be the answer? Probably. Will it be as easy as they make it out to be? Absolutely not!

Over time, I have noticed our attitudes and patterns changing. On of our latest successes was the master bedroom closet. We started on one side of our non-walk-in closet and took everything out. We decided to begin with Dave’s message tees. You can read his post below. Neither of us have a gigantic wardrobe, so it wasn’t the task it could have been. I’ve been slowly losing weight and have had to replace my wardrobe a couple of times in the last six years. It’s not a capsule by any means but it’s not vast either. By taking things out, it caused us to really look at stuff. Anything I hadn’t warn in six months I tried on to see if it even fit anymore. I have a strict policy that once something is too big I get rid of it. It’s too easy for me to gain weight when I have larger sizes readily available in the closet.

As I pulled things out I asked myself two questions. First, when was the last time I wore this? Second, why? I got rid of anything where the answer was something like, “I don’t really like it that much,” or “It’s not super flattering so I avoid wearing it.” This is prime real estate and stuff I don’t ever really wear doesn’t get to suck up room. At the end of the “cold” season I will purge again. We live in Southern California, I won’t insult anyone by calling it winter.

One of the major issues that Dave and I disagree on is the sentimental stuff. My advice is remove that stuff and put it in another room if you can. We got sidetracked for a solid 30 minutes on a box marked “Wedding Stuff” and I felt it hampered our momentum. Dave thought it was a nice stroll down memory lane in an otherwise boring project. Do what’s best for you. Also, depending on the size of your closet this may take two or three sessions. If you have clothes spread around the house, like in your guest room or office closet, you may want to get it all in one place so you can really see what you have. If you have five black dresses that are similar, you need to see them all at one time in order to decide what to keep and what it let go.

In the end we purged 60 items total. Yes, I actually counted as we went, on  a piece of paper on a clipboard no less. When the year is over I want to really understand where we came from so I can tell you if it was worth it.

I have to say that it has been really nice not needing to practically use a crow bar to get clothes out of the right side of our closet. Nothing is getting wrinkled anymore either.

Well, on to the next project.

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After the purge our clothes have room to hang and not be wrinkled.

Not Quite the Perfect Number

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By Dave

Like many guys I suppose, I love a good message T-shirt. Whether it is showing my love of a particular TV show, a place I have travelled to, a college I attended (I went to several) or support for the high school where I work (and because the latter are often free, I am happy to take one), I rarely pass by a cool tee without checking for one in my size.

This led to my collection of 42 message T-shirts (If you are a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you probably are geeking out right now). I knew I had “a bunch,” but had no clue how many that was.

The problem was that all of them had a special memory connected to them. Perhaps they were not worth the $15-$20 or so I paid for each (sans the free ones, of course), but they were important to me at one time for one reason or another.

But I had to come to terms with the fact that they were not all important enough to keep, particularly since many of them were fading, chipping or pilling. I could keep the memory of the shirt without the actual shirt, so into the trash or Goodwill bag they went.

Shirt after shirt, memory after memory, was gently retired.

In the end, 20 shirts remained. Besides the fact I normally wear collared shirts to work, I realized a very important fact: I am an adult and probably should dress like one. While fun, I don’t need clothing of my past when they don’t reflect my future.

And the extra closet space is a nice, added bonus.

Working the Plan

To Do List
Creative Commons photo by Justin See

By Dave

I may not be a planner by nature, but I definitely married one. While I plan because I have to, her eyes light up and there is a raw energy in her voice when she tells you about her latest strategy to tackle a problem. She not only loves to plan, she finds comfort in it.

It’s not that I just get up and live moment-by-moment without a clue of what comes next. I’m a teacher, so the need to plan is a by-product of my job. If I didn’t know what I was coming after the vocabulary review of a book chapter, any semblance of learning or organization can be expected to fly right out the window.

But transferring that skill from the classroom to home is not always that easy. At home, I want to be done with work and any reminder of it. While grading takes over some time and space in my sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of students and lesson plans and pacing guides, I want my home to be free from the structure that dictates my daily life.

The problem, however, is that the organization that helps my classroom run more efficiently, can be applied to the home environment to achieve the results that will make a long-lasting difference.

So, as much as I don’t like the idea, the only way this whole experiment is going to work is if I’m willing to use a calendar and start making some plans for success.

The Cuisinart Conundrum

IMG_2432By Renée

When we got married nearly 21 years ago we were given a top-of-the-line Cuisinart Food Processor. We had not registered for said item and since neither of us could really cook there was a reason why it didn’t make the list. But it was fancy and expensive and we couldn’t bring ourselves to just get rid of it. We moved it from our first apartment to our first house and then to a second house all the while it remained unopened in its original box. When the decluttering bug first bit me, that was one of the first things to go. Using the mantra of “do I use it or do I love it” it clearly didn’t make the cut and out it went. Fast-forward several years later when we actually did start cooking more and we needed a food processor but could only afford a very basic one. So of course, we launched into a whole debate over why we got rid of a perfectly good thing that now we would use and love. Crap! I’m not going to pin my decluttering downfall on this particular incident but it certainly didn’t help our cause. After making do for several years with what we could afford we finally bought a 2017 version of the 1997 Cuisinart Food Processor. We use it about three times a week, and by we I mean Dave.

This time around we have set aside $300 to replace any items that we regret getting rid of. Now I don’t mean just regret but that we find ourselves repeatedly MacGyvering some solution for the thing we got rid of. I am calling this our Decluttering Safety Net and so far it is creating fantastic freedom to let go of things without worry.

Not Quite Lord of the Rings

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By Dave

Anyone who knows me well probably is aware the whole “absent-minded professor” vibe I give off isn’t really an act. I’ve been known to “misplace” things from time to time, though, to be fair, when you “misplace” things as often as I do, you really don’t like using the word “lose”. The missing items usually turn up again. Eventually.

There is a story I tell that is, quite sadly, true, of the time I lost my high school class ring. It had gone missing for more than a year and, using my charm and gift of persuasion, convinced my mother to purchase me a new one. After much begging and pleading, I was the proud owner of a replacement ring.

But, like I said before, things in my life rarely stay “misplaced” forever. A few months later, the original ring turned up in the small, 5th pocket of my jeans (It is important to note I lived with my dad and did all my own laundry. Had my mom been in charge of this duty, I imagine the ring would have reappeared in rather short order).

Fast forward a quarter century to a recent weekend where my wife was in the midst of decluttering and finding a permanent home for our holiday gifts. Much to my surprise, she discovered a gift card for my favorite pizza place, one that serves a nice deep-dish pie not easy to find in Southern California.

Where was it, you might ask? It was actually buried beneath the tissue in my Christmas stocking. And if it had not been for my wife and her love for organization and minimalism, who knows when, or if, I would have found said gift.

If only the same could be said about my class rings. The first one was, like I said, found.

The second one has been, well…misplaced.

 

You Have to Start Somewhere

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By Renée

I’ve been reading books on decluttering and minimalism trying to find the perfect way to get my house cleared out and am dealing with some serious analysis paralysis. As I looked around our 1300 square-foot, three bedroom house I starting asking myself what needs to go? Of course, my mind immediately flew to the master bedroom closet shelf where my almost 21-year-old wedding dress resides. I felt my stomach clench and then I realized that this was not the place to start but rather the place to end. If I have learned one thing in my reading it’s that you start with something easy. You need to build momentum so that you will stay energized and make it to the finish line.

Going from room to room and looking over what we have I noticed that there are three layers of stuff in our house. The first layer is what I call The Eyesore Layer. It’s the clutter that makes our house look like a mess and makes me say bad words and get angry. The second layer is The Excessive Layer. These items are put away and not a mess but we have too many of them. Books, clothes, DVDs, CDs and dishes make up this layer. The third layer is two categories that we have a similar motivation for keeping, The Emotional Layer and The Expensive Layer. Gifts and keepsakes added to things like watches we don’t wear or kitchen appliances we spent a lot of money but didn’t use after a month.

We’re going to start with the first layer and work our way down. We’re beginning with what my husband calls the junk room. It’s our third bedroom and was supposed to be a craft room for me but then really turned into a dumping ground for anything that we didn’t have a place for. I’m setting a 15 minute timer for today and diving in.