Some thoughtul responses to Monday's post. I love to get feedback!
I could not give up walking in cities, reading, traveling or eating
chocolate. I enjoy but could give up (if it would solve global warming,
for example) restaurants, new clothes, book clubs.
One year, my youngest granddaughter, who's crazy about broccoli,
gave it up for Lent. Her younger brothers, who hate the stuff, tried to
give it up for Lent also. But their mother saw through that!
Happy spring. Adele G.
I've had to give up driving for too long and that has been hard. I thank my friends and Jay for their patience. Giving up types of food, especially sweets has been hard but when I think how lucky I am to have so much food available, I can't complain. Not seeing my kids more often is hard. If I had to give up, paper that would be hard, though I have drawn on sidewalks and used coffee, hot chocolate and make-up when color wasn't available. I always thought I could invent something to make a mark with. I've used different colored sand and stones at the beach to make art. There is always something.
Not being able to see or use my hands would be the biggest loss of all if all else was stable, like family's health. With all this, I think it would be hard to lose my e-mail!
I am constantly grateful for everything I have. By the way, it would be hard to give up a stove and washing machine, too!
Your blogs are a delight! I'll think about things I'd give up (like you, mainly "stuff") -- and what I must have for my emotional space. Anne H.
My writing colleague, Anne Hosansky, wrote this poignant piece, “Clinging to Clutter,” on her blog. I’m posting a few excerpts; you can read it all at anne-otations.me/
“This week, oversized garbage bag in hand, I tackled the closet in my son’s room. When I say “his “room that’s a misnomer. For the little boy who grew up here is now two thousand miles away, a father to his own little boy and girl. Out came a pair of curtains that no longer fit any window in my apartment. So they got tossed – or did they? A week later, they’re still on a chair waiting for me to decide.
“Why have I kept the keyboard of my old computer? My little grandson played with it once when he visited, pretending it was plugged into an imaginary outlet we drew on the wall. Maybe I should keep it for him, except that he has already outgrown such childish play. Toss, keep, recycle? None of the above?
“Yet items such as these are the easier ones. The difficult are those interwoven with my lost youth. Today I make a second foray into that closet. I find a bulging scrapbook, ragged edges poking out. Down it comes from the shelf. Opening the torn cover I see disintegrating pages holding my years as an actress. My “other life,” as people call it. I turn fragile pages, inhaling the dust of decades.
“Photos of scenes from shows. Each bringing back the actor I’d worked with – loved – hated . “This woman was a famous actress who blew up at me between scenes because I was getting laughs she wanted,” I tell my partner. Feeling again my indignation at being berated. Wasn’t I also proud I’d been so good at comedy? (Where is my sense of humor these days??)
“I may not ever look at these again. Too much memory. Chances are that no one else will ever look at this collection either, after my real life demise. My children may or may not be briefly interested in the contents. More likely they’ll be frustrated at having to sort through things their mother wasn’t thoughtful enough to discard.
“Maybe we need a new definition of “clutter.” I’m told it’s anything you haven’t used in five years. A mathematical boundary.
“But what if it momentarily brings back the sweetness of a lost time?
Judi’s Note” After reading her piece I emailed Anne, telling her how much I enjoyed it. “As an outsider interested in this subject, my reaction is that your theater scrapbook etc. should definitely stay. It's part of you and your family may well be interested in it. I wish I had that kind of information about my mother.
The defunct keyboard and the non-fitting curtains. Really?
Theoretically everything we own has some kind of memory attached to it, happy, poignant, or meh. But I think having too many links to the past tends to keep us more held down than we need to be. Just a thought! Judi
Yes, I know it’s late to be taking about giving up something for Lent, but it was not in my Presbyterian tradition, so when Ash Wednesday comes around I never think about what I can do without for the next forty days. But I woke up yesterday morning considering what I could give up forever if I had to.
If someone showed up at the door and said that I could never watch another TV show and that they had come for the set I would say sure--though I like to watch films on DVD and might try to negotiate to keep those. But I could promise never to buy another pair of dress shoes or piece of jewelry or set of attractive plates or box of Godiva chocolates. In fact, any future birthday or Christmas gifts could be donations to charities instead.
Of course, there are things I could gladly give up, the ones that fall within the category of “Thou Shalt Nots,” that my son, Andy, thought up the other day when we were discussing empty promises:
"Thou shalt not get a root canal."
"Thou shalt not sit through timeshare presentations."
"Thou shalt not attend Rod McKuen poetry readings.”
And so on. On the next level are things that I wouldn’t want to give up, but I could if I had to: drinking wine, taking photographs, going to art museums, eating cupcakes (rare, but I like to keep my options open). I could skip ever buying another car, or book as long as there are libraries, and promise never to paint another picture or play Freecell Solitaire.
Unfortunately I’m still as all over the place as a nervous monkey. And the sticking points are odd. In my basement studio I have a carton of ephemera, everything from a World War II ration card to old Simplicity patterns and 1890 newspaper clippings, all saved for “collage” purposes--along with the Somerset magazines that will inspire me to do it. How long has it been since I’ve made a collage? Yet giving these away would feel like a loss, as much as selling my antique postcard collection.
I also can’t promise not to work on my garden, travel, read and write fiction, blog, create Christmas cards, make birdhouses, sell on eBay, eat in restaurants, give workshops, and entertain friends. I lean toward minimalism where stuff is concerned, but I’m an experience junkie.
Until I get that habit under control, I know I won’t amount to anything. The old “life-glimpsed-through-a-single window” debate still rages. More about that another time.
Thanks so much for your responses to my looking for direction! It's a lifelong quest, but at least I know where my blog should be headed. I'm still trying to understand why it takes so little effort to turn an area like my studio into chaos and so much work to restore it. There must be something genetic in being able to do things neatly with minimal fuss. Not in my DNA, unfortunately. My only solution so far is to have fewer things to get in the way. More discipline, putting things back as soon as I am finished with them would help. But that seems so . . . regimented.
Anyway, here are some responses to the direction question. And thanks for the lovely comments!
I think you are doing a great job on this blog, and you create from nothing! The rest of us couldn't even think of the things you come up with! My interest is to keep talking about living a simplified streamlined life. And I'm not really talking about minimalism, but that "uncluttered vacation house feeling"! Kathy W.
Judi's blog asks us Are you interested in ways to live a simplified, more “spiritual” life?
YES, PLEASE HELP!
I found something on Cynthia Bourgeault's site: http://www.spiritualityandpractice.co/days/features.php?id=16629
Lots of interesting stuff to read there. Note that humor is a big part of it. It suggests watching a black comedy. Linda and I did that the other day: ANIMAL HOUSE. Great!
This made about the same amount of sense as being in church yesterday listening to our priest talk about the Lenten experience,
during which he used the phrase "diddly squat," the definition of which is "meaningless." That gave me pause. Phil L.
How to sell on ebay is something I am interested in, Judi.
Yes, yes, and yes!!! I enjoy all of your writings, no matter the topic. That being said, write about whatever's on your mind that day. Just keep writing from your heart. Vicki M.G.
Ways to live a simplified, more “spiritual” life sounds good to me, thanks. Jeff K.
Managing, organizing and selling. I already live a simplified life, but it takes work to stay that way. Kathy M.
I'd like to learn how to sell on eBay. Nancy A.
Judi's Note: Because a number of people have expressed an interest in eBay and because it's so much fun, I'm going to set a day in April when people can come over and learn about eBay selling and bring something they'd like to try.
I’ve been trying to figure out when I can teach “The Psychology of Stuff” in the fall at Stony Brook University (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) and am coming up with only a few slits of opportunity. Mondays would be best, but that’s the day I take the three classes I love. Once a month I have several-hour garden club and book club meetings (on a Tuesday and a Thursday) but I could squeeze the class in early one of those mornings. Who wants to think about clutter on a Friday when they have weekend plans?
The one logical day of the week, Wednesday, is the one I need to keep free. I need at least one day when nothing is scheduled, when I am free to contemplate, to experiment with new thoughts, to do exactly what I want. I love quiet. Sometimes when I’m in the car and turn off the radio, it is startling and wonderful. I fall into the silence the way you would into a soft bed.
I’m awed by people who go off alone to cabins or retreats for days at a time, but that doesn’t work with my lifestyle right now. Yet having even one day a week of time by myself works. I don’t meditate, though I think I should, but walking is a kind of meditation for me.
In Solitude, A Return to the Self, Anthony Storr writes, “Removing oneself voluntarily from one’s habitual environment promotes contact with those inner depths of being which elude one in day-to-day life.”
He also quotes other people: “We must reserve a little back-shop, all our own, entirely free, wherein to establish our true liberty and principle retreat and solitude.” (Rene Montaigne)
“Conversation enriches the soul, but solitude is the school of genius.” (Edward Gibbon)
Too much solitude can be unhealthy, but not enough can be worse.
I love hearing from people who enjoy the blog, especially when a topic creates a lot of interest. So I'd like to go in that direction. I started the blog as a way of sharing “Endangered Species,” and also to keep in touch with members of the class I taught last fall, “The Psychology of Stuff.”
Now I’d like some feedback as to what direction we should continue in. What are you most interested in hearing about:
The psychology behind our attachment to things.
Ways to live a simplified, more “spiritual” life.
Practical tips and ideas for managing and organizing your stuff.
How to sell on eBay.
Setting goals for simplifying as a group, and discussing them with each other.
My progress and setbacks as a writer.
Sharing creative ideas on how great ways to live (not just stuff but food, travel, gardening, art etc.)
You can pick more than one.
I’d also like ideas on how to get the Endangered Species into more permanent form. If a book, including what else? If a T-shirt--would you wear one? Seriously, my accountant gave me some great ideas for future Delhi Laine mysteries (he finds my writing more interesting than my taxes). so I’m counting on you!
I came home late last night from a "Sisters in Crime" presentation with my brain fogged and an unwelcome image of the "spiders" that crawl the net looking for keywords. Early on I had vowed never to join Twitter, never to tweet, and seeing the presenters' pages of inane soundbytes didn't much change my mind. I don't have enough to do in life without responding to cute comments all day long? No, I don't "text" either.
But it looks like it's the way the world runs now, especially if you want to publish books or do anything creative. As one of the presenters said wistfully, "It's not enough to write a great book anymore."
Oh, you also have to "brand" yourself. The next time you see me, look carefully at my forehead.
Seriously, I'd love to get your feedback. Are any of you on Twitter? Am I the embodiment of the Last Typewriter Standing mentality, about to be swept away? Let mek
I received interesting responses to Monday’s Challenge, the one about the Cistercian monks and the way they live a simpler life:
“In addition to appreciating the intangibles, I think having fewer things makes you appreciate those things that much more. I believe the capacity for appreciating material objects is finite, which means that the more stuff you possess the more diluted that appreciation becomes. I would much rather have a higher appreciation for a few things than a lower appreciation for many.”
Great observation! One striking painting on the wall of a sparse room is much more noticeable than the same one in a room cluttered with furniture and other art. A few things of quality are preferable to a roomful of kitsch, and much easier to love.
“Helpful and inspirational weekly messages.
You could almost start a new religion.”
It may be called Buddhism.
“Isn't it also true that we can understand people on one rung below us (less educated, less ambitious, less successful perhaps) but fail to understand people far below (homeless, criminal, mentally ill)? Our connections to others don't take us very far.”
So true, Adele! I hadn't thought about the downward trend, but it's true. It's so easy to think, "Why can't they just . . . " or "How could they do something like that," without much comprehension. Do you think it’s a failure of imagination or of desire? The monks seemed to understand and forgive everybody. It’s a skill to work on.
“Remind me to tell you of the story of the Tibetan monks who escaped over the Himalayas into India. The key word is "inconvenience". That story has kept me going.
"You would be proud of me. I cleaned two night table drawers out. But I keep buying knitting books….I would have to be as old as an Alp to knit all that stuff.”
Come on, Donna. Tell us the story about the monks!
“I had to be involved in a friend's funeral this week, including hosting the lunch after the church service. I managed it because I just kept on moving, but it did dawn on me that it would have been easier to function without looking for things through all the claptrap. This including having my guest room full of all the junk that had to be moved when I just did recarpeting. And now I needed to host two sets of houseguests in the midst of it all! Why did I have two desks and a bookcase full of so much junk?! All these possessions just impede me from living my life clearly and easily.”
The important thing is that you were working at it even before this happened. You know what to do and are doing it and are on your way to a streamlined life. At such a sad time, if you give house guests comforting food to eat and drink, and make them feel welcome, they don’t notice the clutter anyway.
Still thinking about Of Gods and Men. There’s something mysterious, thinking about all the stuff that I’ve accumulated, things I love and things I’ve forgotten about, that will be here motionless and untouched when I’m gone. I keep coming back to the image of a stiff suit of clothes with no body in it. Not trying to creep anybody out, it’s just the way it is.
Something else struck me about the way the monks lived. At Christmas, after they had celebrated the mass, they had a special dinner. They drank wine and talked and listened to Tchaikovsky. You could see in their faces how much the occasion meant to them.
It reminded me of a time in my life when everything seemed like too much--too many dinners out, too many concerts, too many books, too much stimulation. I wasn’t eagerly anticipating anything; whatever it was, was just the next thing to do. I needed to get off the assembly line and live more mindfully. Do less and relish it more. Some people like to keep busy; I have to have days when I have nothing planned.
So what’s the challenge? Maybe just to think about the things you own that are necessary to you now, and others whose Time has passed, but will still be here when you’ve gone. It would be better to do something with them now than to leave them for someone else to decide about.
So we were watching a DVD, Of Gods and Men, (Cannes Grand Prize winner, 2010) about eight Cistercian French monks in Algeria who were kidnapped in 1996. The film shows them living in harmony in their Muslim community, raising bees for honey, providing help and medical care. Their scripture reading and chanting, their whole way of life in the ancient monastery in the Atlas Mountains were beautiful.
Suddenly I had one of those moments when you are snatched out of your own life and are looking down at it. I was watching this simplicity and purpose when I had a vision of my own existence, living in a large house surrounded by tons of stuff. An environment that will be here when I no longer am, rather like a stiff set of clothes with no body inside. For a moment I couldn’t think why I was living this way.
Gradually it came back, though I didn’t want it to. In Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward, he theorizes that we can only understand people on the next level of higher (or deeper) development, and that people on levels beyond that invariably appear misguided and extreme. Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, are all admirable but incomprehensible.
What I experienced was like a curtain being pushed momentarily aside, the gift of glimpsing my life as, say, a monk in Algeria would. Then it dropped back into place, even as I tried to hold onto its emotional truth.
What next? I’m intrigued by the possibilities.