Lenten Challenge, Day… um 13?

I’ll short-cut the chore list today because my library hold of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up finally came in, and I want to spend most of my time working through what I’ve read so far. It’s a fast read— I read about 26% of it last night in 20 minutes or so.

But first, I got home, got dinner started, walked the dog, stripped my bed and duvet cover, remade the bed, did some laundry (and sent linen home with mom). I probably spent 1 applied hour on the cleaning portion (sorting and hanging laundry, stripping and remaking the bed). And I ran the dishwasher.

I have to say how much nicer it is to start cooking from a clean kitchen, and to end the night with a clean kitchen. It’s relaxing in a way that going into a kitchen that needs cleaning before you can cook is not. The difference in spending that 5 minutes at the end of a meal versus having to spend 5 minutes before you can start making a meal is enormous in terms of stress reduction.

Which leads me to The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I like that the author really boils things down: first, throw things away. Throw a lot of things away. Second, have a sensible place to put the stuff you keep. Done. She says things like “don’t tidy a little at a time— throw a bunch of stuff away and revisit once or twice a year. Put things away as you use them everyday.” This goes well with what FlyLady and others teach, which is that you can’t clean clutter. More storage bins is probably not the answer to a cleaner house, less stuff is.

One of the things she says is that you have to get clear about why you’re tidying. Really clear. Like ask yourself why, and then ask why several more times about each of the answers you give. So that’s what I want to focus on today.

Why am I tidying?
Because the clutter makes me feel out of control in my space, and I find that unpleasant, especially when I’m stressed. I hate few things more than the feeling of having to tidy up before I can… whatever. I don’t like it when I have to pick things up so I can vacuum, but even the other day, when I wanted to play RockBand, I had to tidy up because I couldn’t find the Wii remote (and without it, you can do nothing.) And when I found it, it needed to be charged. So, like, 90 minutes after the idea occurred to me, I was able to play RockBand. I sang three songs and that was about all I could manage, what with other things I had going on in my life. And while I looked for the Wii remote and let it charge, I just found project after project that needed attention— ooh, I should probably dust that wow, I really need to sweep under there… and this thing that was supposed to be fun and indulgent suddenly became this stressful incident.

Why do you want to feel in control of your space?
Because I want my home to feel restorative, not just like another place I go to work.

Why do you want your home to feel restorative?
Because I want more play and more joy in my life. I have this theory that my entire life doesn’t need to be lived at the end of my rope—- that there’s a time in my day to write and play guitar, to sit outside with the dog and let the cat take a nap in my lap. But you wouldn’t know it from the way I live. And I know it’s unnecessary. When I go to a hotel, I don’t live this way. I unpack, I keep my things put away, and at the end of the day, there’s time for me to work out or watch TV, read or think. Now I know that the full-time staff of housekeeping and maintenance is behind the scenes, working on my behalf in ways that I don’t have at home, but the way I live with less stuff is much more pleasant than the ways I live with more stuff. And often, when I travel, I work much longer hours, so the fact that the space and time I have to myself feels so much more restorative says that it’s possible for me to do this differently and get a better result. The clutter is evidence of things unfinished, of what I “should be doing,” instead of what I want to be doing. I don’t want to come home to a house full of things I should be doing. I want to come home to a house full of things I love to do. A house that invites me to relax, to be creative, to be social, to rest, not one that urges me to plod on bravely.

Why do you want to come home to a house full of things you love to do. Why do you want to relax, to be creative, to be social, and to rest?
Because to me, that’s what I work so hard to enable. It’s the reward I’ve promised myself, but seldom actually delivered.

The next thing she talks about is keeping only what sparks joy. And the phrasing of this is really important. It’s not “throw away everything that doesn’t spark joy,” and she’s pretty specific about that. Which is an interesting thing for me. I keep things for “practical” reasons all the time. I have a top in my wardrobe. It’s kind of interesting and funky, and on the rare occasions when I wear it, it’s got a certain something. But every time I go through my closets, I think “I should throw that out.” The truth is that it only looks good on me at a particular weight (which I’ve found difficult to maintain), and at any other weight, it makes me look and feel like an overstuffed sausage. Through no fault of its own, I think of it as something that makes me look bad when I put it on, so even when I am at the magic weight, it’s not my favorite thing to wear. And yet, I’ve defended to myself the need to keep it. For years.

I have way too many clothes. By any standard. Years ago, I counted and I had enough pants (not counting shorts and skirts) to wear everything once only, and not run out of clothes or need to do laundry for more than a month. And I suspect that it’s as bad as it was then, or worse. And I just cleaned out my closets. Twice, since the holidays, in fact. I proposed a variant on this rule for shopping: I’m only going to buy things that I love. That make me happy. But then I give myself a practical out: “yeah, I don’t love it, but it’s a black t-shirt, and that makes it a basic.” And the fact that I already have three black t-shirts at home, not counting long-sleeved ts and tank tops, and that I think that dressing in black is mostly a fashion cop-out and prefer to wear color doesn’t deter me from picking it up, especially if it’s on sale. Neither does the fact that it doesn’t exactly fit or look great on me.

I’d been thinking about a ratio system— reduce everything by 20 percent. What if I did throw out even more? What if I got rid of everything that didn’t make me feel beautiful and free and inspired? What if I got my place to the point that I could run the vacuum without brain damage whenever, and that the thought of dealing with my pantry didn’t fill me with dread? Even if it meant I got rid of 80 percent of my stuff? Even if it meant not worrying about throwing out the corks I’ve been saving and the toilet paper rolls for that project and hundreds of CDs I don’t listen to and don’t want to digitize, and books I haven’t read and probably don’t intend to and stuff and stuff? That truly could be some life-changing magic. If I were to drop dead today, someone would have to do this work for me, and I don’t want that for my loved ones. Having to make a decision about a random piece of plastic at the bottom of a tote I’ve hauled around is too much brain damage for me, let alone my loved ones.

Even now, I find myself balking at the idea of throwing out gifts that people gave me that I never would have bought for myself, because what if I need it or what if they know something I don’t know…

I may not get there all at once, but I’m hoping this is the start of my really getting somewhere.

She says to declutter by category, and to start with clothes, taking everything out of the closets and drawers all in one place and discarding until you’re done. That’s not been how I’ve done it, and perhaps it’s why I’ve kept way too much. She recommends clothes, then books, papers, miscellany, and mementos. Cleaning my closets like this will take at least a full day, so I’ll save that for the weekend, and keep reading and working through this. But I think she’s right— knowing that I’m doing this to have a home full of things I love to do, not coming home to something that shames and exhausts me, it’s motivating to me in a way that getting rid of things on principle is not.

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