Thursday, October 29, 2009
a weight on my mind
It's a well-known fact amongst my family, friends and readers that I am a 'stuff' person. Since my youth, it's been safe to say I'm a packrat. In my adult life, I would even dare to admit that I have something of a hoarding problem. If you've read even a little bit of my blog, you know that I consider this to be one of the three main roadblocks that hold me back from achieving many of my dreams. Over the years, there have been times I've felt like I've made considerable progress with this problem... and times when I've felt like I've landed back at square one, doomed to forever be buried under mountains of clutter. Sometimes I lament the fact that I have too much stuff, and entertain fantasies of burning it all... or, in my less desperate hours, fantasize about opening my house in some manic "sell off my life" sort of estate sale. Getting rid of it all, and starting over at square one. Other times, I lament the fact that our house is too small and become intensely desperate to move to a much larger home. (Always after these thoughts do I kick myself in the butt; I do believe we need a larger space for our family, but it should NOT be because of STUFF!)
Recently I've felt, once more, that I've been making progress on this problem. I am at a place in my life where I can look back and realize that I HAVE made a lot of progress over the years. I still get frustrated, and I still backslide; if I were being honest I would admit to you that more than half of our home is currently practically unlivable due to the mountains of stuff in the rooms. I would also have to admit to you that, as recently as last week, our entire house was like that; it has only been in the past few days that I've managed to get most of the upstairs back into clean, uncluttered space. Despite the backsliding, and despite the fact that I sometimes feel like I'm living the definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result each time), I really DO believe I've made progress over the years. Here's why:
Certainly I'm no psychologist, but for me, keeping / hoarding all of these items is largely a mental issue. I have huge emotional ties to my stuff. I have spent probably the last ten years coming to terms with that fact, trying to understand it, admiring my friends and family who are minimalists, reading and studying the tenets of living a simple life, and working hard to embrace that philosophy myself. A lot of internal meditation and rumination has gone on for the past decade. I am at a place where I have accepted that I will probably never be a MINIMALIST, and indeed I don't think I WANT to be... but I don't feel a need to suffocate myself with THINGS anymore. I am comfortable letting things go, even things I once loved and treasured dearly. I have come up with ways to memorialize the important things and people in my life without needing physical mementos. I no longer feel panicky when I think of letting the majority of my things go. This isn't perfect, of course; there are still things I have attachments to, and sometimes when I'm purging I have to sit and really think about each item before I can part with it. And, of course, some things will be staying. But I feel now like I am choosing to surround myself with quality items; items that REALLY mean something to me, rather than boxes upon boxes of 'treasures' I have collected, 'treasures' which I never even saw because they were in piles or stacks or boxed in the garage or laundry room. I can't really tell you exactly how I got here, other than to say that I spent a LOT of time (ten years, at least!) thinking about it and trying really hard to get here. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone, time and time again. I also have to give a lot of props to Flylady and her system. I have been on and off the Flylady system numerous times in my life, and while I must say that to date, following her system exactly has NEVER worked for me... there are a great deal of small tips and tricks and philosophies of hers that I have picked up and follow religiously. I maintain a sort of control journal that helps me keep the house clean (when it's decluttered, which admittedly has been rare so far, but getting better!). I use my timer constantly, and often tell myself 'you can do anything in 15 minutes!'. (I work in a lot of 15-minute bursts, and when I get on a roll, those are some of my most productive days.) And her philosophies about decluttering... I've railed against them for years, but I've slowly come to realize she's right.
You see, Flylady strongly encourages decluttering... purging your things, giving them away to bless others (AND bless yourself by having a clean, decluttered life and home!). You can't organize clutter, she says. Well, that one was an eye-opener for me right away. If you're an organized person by nature, I'm sure you're thinking 'well, DUH' right now. Those of us that are NOT 'Born Organized' need these eye-openers sometimes! From the moment I read that one, it rang true. However, there was another part of her decluttering philosophy that took me years to accept. Flylady is vehemently anti-garage sale. Just give it away, she encourages her followers; you'll bless others and bring prosperity into your own life through your generosity. Garage sales are too much work and hassle and you don't get nearly enough return on the amount of work you put in. I agree with her "bless others and bring prosperity into your own life" philosophy, but I've stubbornly refused to hear her message about the garage sales. For at least FIVE YEARS now. Really; I even had a garage sale this year. I think I've had one every year since my son was born. Some years I may even have had two. The reason being that I feel like we need money to move ahead in life. Money to get out of debt, move to a bigger home to accommodate our growing family, achieve so many of my dreams. There is so much MONEY tied up in all this stuff I own that it has made me sick to just give it away. (Yes, I know about tax write-offs when you donate to charities; but somehow the idea of not getting an immediate return on my money just stuck in my craw.) It's been really immensely difficult for me to accept the fact that I wasted so many of my (and later, my family's) resources on so much useless stuff that I'm just going to TOSS now. So I've garage saled many hours of my life away; each time vowing never to do it again because it really and truly IS a pain in the ass. Then I've vowed to myself that I'm going to sell these things on ebay and craigslist! Maybe they didn't go in the garage sale but that's just because they didn't have the right BUYER! The internet reaches the whole WORLD; surely someone will see it and pay me what it's worth!
IF THIS SOUNDS FAMILIAR TO YOU TOO, LET ME STOP YOU RIGHT NOW AND TELL YOU: THIS IS A DELUSION. Unless you have some really awesome stuff. And by awesome I mean ACTUALLY antique or collectible (not just in your own mind). If you're like me and you have a lot of awesome-to-you stuff, but it doesn't hold a lot of monetary value, you're not going to get much for it. And you know what else? It's a huge hassle to post all that stuff! Let alone manage the inventory and then box it and ship it if it sells. Especially when you're trying to declutter and you're already surrounded by mounds of stuff. If I had a warehouse to store the sale items in, and I managed it like a job, it might work. But I don't; I'm working against myself, because I keep making piles of stuff to sell in different areas of my house, and then we trip over them and other stuff lands on them and before you know it I'm back under mountains of clutter.
So. It's taken me a good five years to admit it, but Flylady, YOU ARE RIGHT. The stuff has to just GO. I know I will be blessing others with these things, because a lot of the items are in good shape and are still useful. But it's not blessing me or my family right now. I DO believe that in helping others we open the door for more blessings in our own life. I have already packed my car with the first load of stuff to go out the door, and I really feel like I'm lightening the load in my home by purging things.
I believe this logically, and I am now at a point where I believe this 95% emotionally as well. But there is a part of me that is not at ease with it. Mostly because, as I mentioned earlier, so much of our money has been spent on this stuff that I am now tossing. It is truly a bitter pill to swallow, to know that I could have so much more in other areas, areas I YEARN to be further along in, if I hadn't wasted so much on 'in the moment' impulses in the past. This is a lesson I am still learning, and part of me still wants to try to make a 'recovery' from it by recouping some of that money. It really cuts me to have to admit that sometimes you CAN'T recoup losses like that. I can learn from my mistakes, and I can move forward. I'm trying really hard to move forward right now. I still have a huge problem with impulse control (that's what therapy is for!). I have a lot of regrets about this 'stuff', and tonight it is sitting like a lead weight in my stomach. I know I'm going to have more issues with this as I purge more stuff. I am, in particular, dreading my basement and garage because there is a LOT of stuff that I won't do well purging. A big part of me just wants this process to be OVER already. Most of me is ready. Part of me is still hanging on.
Through it all, I'm proud of the progress I've made. I'm hopeful that this time is FINALLY the time for me, the time that I will be on my way to a less cluttered, cleaner, less stressful life. I hope that I am able to come to terms soon with the regrets I have over wasting so much money in the past. I hope that releasing my things to bless others who need them really will bring unforeseeable benefits into our lives. I hope that I continue to get a better handle on my impulses so that I can live a more fruitful life and make smarter decisions every day, especially in the realm of finance. I'm having trouble seeing the long road ahead. I'm trying really hard to make everyday decisions that will help me achieve our long term goals.
I really, really hope that this time, finally, is the time for me to get over that first road block, for once and for all.