Saturday, January 23, 2016

How to Stay Sane While "Kondo"-ing Your Life

It's snowing a bit today. And by "a bit" I mean there are huge drifts of snow blocking my doors and the wind has things blowing sideways out in the now white world. 

I like snow a lot. I think it's gorgeous. And I love that it makes it possible to breathe for a few days here in the Nation's Capital of over-programmed people. Everything, and I mean everything, stops. No school, no cars, no work, no obligations. It's kinda heaven. 

So what do you do, when you have a Type A personality and suddenly you find yourself with days of nothing going on and nowhere to go?

You pull out this little book and get to work, of course.

Ah.. Marie Kondo and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. One of the most talked about books of 2015. Have you guys read it yet? If not, go pick it up at Costco for less than $10. Or get it used on Amazon... but if you go the Amazon route, read the reviews. There was some poor guy who was completely traumatized because he to move all his beloved "shtuff" into his truck to keep his wife from throwing it away after she read the book. (Obviously his wife didn't read the chapter about how you really should only do this with your own belongings.) Totally cracked me up. But it's way down there in the reviews, so good luck finding it.

Anyway, I read this book last summer. Kondo is totally insane. I mean completely out of her mind, in the way that only OCD single Japanese women can be. 

But she is also right. 

If you follow her method, there is very little chance of you going back to your comfortable wicked ways of overabundance and slavery to stuff. (Well, I think having to fold your underwear in a certain way and put it in a little carton is a form of slavery, but for the sake of this post, let's stick with the "spirit of the law," shall we?) Following this method actually changes the way you think about your stuff. It makes you aware in ways that I don't really understand. Plus it's hard. And takes a lot of effort, so you might find yourself giving your lame ways a stern talking to if you start to slide once it's all said and done. But most of all, it's amazing once it's all done. Really amazing, like Disney sparkles on the corners of things amazing. You feel like you are capable of Great Things.

So after Christmas, I was ready to tackle my stuff and repent of my Capitalistic ways. I started looking around for stuff to get rid of. 

I forgot to take a "before" shot of my dresser. But my side table looks pretty much like my dresser did, 
give or take a layer or two of stuff.

And then my head blew up. 

One of the tenants of this book is to sort things in categories, all at the same time. So if you choose to do "pans" you pull out all the pans you have in the entire house and make decisions on what stays and what goes. Now this makes an amazing amount of sense until you start looking around and realizing just how many freaking categories of stuff you have. I guarantee that you have an enormous amount of stuff to sort through. Unless you are a military wife. Then you can stop reading this post because your stuff is already pared down within an inch of it's life so you can make weight when you move. You are also my hero, because your house is always immaculate, in it's lack of stuff-ness. But aside from the military wife super heroes out there, the rest of us all have infinite groups of things to sort through.

This is where tip number one comes in. 

Tip 1. Pick some place small to start. A drawer, for example. Or the front hall closet. It's not as small as a drawer, but it is a manageable space that if you run out of time, you can just cram everything back into. I chose my jewelry stash. Which didn't end up being very small. I have way more than I thought. Which is the point of gathering all of it up at the same time.

Which brings us to tip number two:

Tip 2. You will need to clean up a place to sort things, before you ever start sorting. You could use the space on the playroom floor, the top of your bed, or your dining room table. Someplace where there is flat space you can spread stuff out out on. But it has to be cleared off before you start dumping more stuff on it. 

I decided to use my floor to stage and sort the stuff on top of my dresser because I knew I could leave it there for a while if I had to. I also knew it would annoy me enough that I would actually finish dealing with it.

In my case, the jewelry was on top of my dresser and taking up half of my top drawer. So I needed a place to work in my master bedroom. I could barely walk around my side of the room, let alone find a place to put all my jewelry out to look at. So I cleaned up all the random things that were hanging out in my side of the room. It took two days. Seriously. Two. Days. Now there was a lot of stuff that didn't belong, like the alphabet flashcards that I bought to spell out a different message on the wall every day at Girl's Camp from two years ago and the dinner plate holding the tools I had used to install track lighting in my hallway three weeks ago, but the two days is a significant thing to note. It totally shocked me. So much so that it's part of tip 3:

Tip 3. This process WILL take you more than one day, per category for most categories. Plan this way and you will be happier and feel less lame inclined to give up when it takes more than one day.  You will need at least one day to sort and at least one day to process what you've sorted. You might get it all done in the same day, if most of what you are paring down is stuff you actually plan on throwing away. 

Now that you have a clean space to stage in and a realistic time frame, you are ready to start tearing things apart sorting. This will generate a whole bunch of clumps of things. Which quickly makes you aware of the need for tip 4.

OK, let's stop for a minute. I can feel you all getting over whelmed and checking out. I know this is a long post. And so, far all I am telling you is what a pain this all is. Keep in mind, my purpose here really is to tell you how to succeed. It is completely worth your time, I swear. Even if you only get through one drawer of makeup or socks. But it does take a certain mind set to get all the way through. The great thing is, once you are thinking about it right, you will just keep succeeding.  

Alright. Pep talk over. Back to tip 4. 

Tip 4. Find a reasonable way to manage your sorting. Do what ever makes the most sense for you; piles, bags, empty boxes, small plastic cups, zip-lock bags, whatever suits your needs. You will need to keep track of a variety of things in a variety of sizes, headed for a variety of destinations. And these are strictly temporary homes, only to be used until you finish processing this category. 

When I sorted my jewelry, I put it all out on the dining room table. Then I sorted it into piles and finger bowls, based on what designation I had given it. For example, the bracelets were too much trouble initially, so they went in a big pile towards the middle. The earrings I knew I didn't want went in a pile on the far right. The necklaces were hung on a chair next to the one I was sitting on. The broken stuff that was worth repairing got put on the plant stand behind me. The bits I planned on using in collages went into a zip-lock bag with "collage" written on it in Sharpie. The empty boxes and bags went in an Ironstone chamber pot that happened  to be sitting on the table. The broken, worn out or de-silvered earrings and random paper debris went in a bag labeled "trash."

Tip 5. A few unexpected things to keep handy during the sorting period are a Sharpie, a regular pen or pencil, post-it notes, and a pad of paper. You need the Sharpie to write on plastic bags designating things "donation" or "trash" or whatever, so you don't forget and throw the wrong things away. The pencil is to write out what needs to happen to any given item. For example, you could write "earring wire broken off" to remind yourself that this pair of earrings needs to go to the jeweler and what needs to be done, so you don't have to sit there and figure it all out again when you are standing in line with your plastic baggie of broken baubles at the jewelers. The pad of paper is to write out things that are going to take several steps. When I cleared off my dresser, I had several works of art that my children had made. Some needed to be repaired or modified, and I want to frame all of them, but I don't have the time or money to do so right now. So I wrote out all my plans, both for now and in the future for the art. For now, I will store them in my original art drawer. When I can, I will frame them and do the other stuff. It's all about dealing with things to the fullest level right now  and making is super easy on yourself when you have to deal with stuff later.

Once you are all done sorting, then you tackle the "processing". Do not let yourself start any more sorting, or any other type of project until you have processed stuff.

Tip 6. Processing can be boring, frustrating, complicated, and time consuming, but you should finish it completely before you start anything else. Processing is the term I am using to describe anything that involves dealing with the stuff you have just unearthed in your sorting that is not going back into the place you have just torn apart sorted. Things that need to go to the cleaners. Or be put in another room. Or to be repaired. Or to be sent to a cousin. Or returned to a neighbor. Or to be donated to Goodwill. All of these kinds of actions are what I think of as "processing." They can be cumbersome. Driving to the cleaners is one more thing to remember. Sending outgrown clothing to your sister's kids requires many steps, before you even head over to wait in line at the post office. Taking that unused light fixture to the ReStore requires you know where the ReStore is and what their donation hours/policies are.

My bags of items to be donated, mended, and given to a friend 
after cleaning my bedroom floor while creating a place to sort.

Simply put, processing requires that you actually do all the annoying, inconvenient things that caused the stuff to be left on the floor or crammed in the drawer in the first place. 

This is where you will want to cave. You will be tempted to do something else. Anything else, rather than finish working through your processing pile. But don't let yourself abandon ship. 

Don't you LOVE this painting? It's my new prize from Salvation Army. I just get lost in it every time I look at it.

Keep chipping away a little at a time, even if it means taking a break to do laundry or walking the dog or going to lunch with your friends. But keep at it for as long as you can stand it every day. Bribe yourself if you have to. Because it will not go away until you deal with it.

So take a breath. 
Make a plan. 
And do it. 
All of it. 

You will be so happy once it is all done. 

You will be free. 

The finished dresser top. In this process, I ended up cleaning up my floor, sorting all my underwear, sorting and restaging all my jewelry where I can see all of it so I remember to use it, clearing off my dresser, clearing out my chaise /writing area, and making my room look more decadent than it already did. WIN!

So, you all ready to "Kondo" something? 
I'd love to hear about your plan or how it all went. 

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Monday, January 11, 2016

How to Know What You Want Most.

You guys all know I read a lot, yes? Well I do. And a couple of years ago I read a gem of a book called Hothouse Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin. 

Sorry. Not my best shot there, but you get the idea. I also noticed they shortened the title of the book to just Hothouse Flower

So in this book, the main characters all live in a huge, dirty city. It is a struggle to find beauty there. But one of my favorite quotes ever is produced in this environment:

If you can hear the quiet while being woken up by the garbage trucks, you have power. If you can feel the stars when all you can see are the lights in the skyscrapers, that's power. If you can smell the forest in front of the dumpster, then you have power. Never let the events in front of you, or the people around you, tell you what to see, feel, taste, smell, or hear.

Now you gotta read the book if you want to know how this is relevant to the plot. But you only have to think about it for a minute, to figure out how it's relevant to your soul. So go ahead. Take a minute. read it again and think about it. I'll wait for you...

So what did you think? Do you have that kind of power to visualize a different reality? To see something or experience something radically different from what is right in front of you? Would you like to be able to?

That's kinda how I spent 2015.

I spent the year learning about what I want most. 

That's what it takes you know, to create a reality so vivid you can call it into existence anywhere. Under any circumstances. If you do what you want most, you are inhabiting your own life. You are being what you are most like. It makes you aware in ways that are not otherwise possible without great effort. And it's fun.

I stumbled on this quest for what I most wanted accidentally. I had been trying really hard in 2014 to be what everyone else needed me to be. Mom, wife, tutor, church member, chauffeur, accountant, cleaning lady, blogger, artist, interior decorator. You know the list. And I was miserable. I felt like I was putting all this effort in and I wasn't even allowed to put what I wanted to do in my own life. 

I knew I was deeply unhappy and that the way I was doing things had to change. So I started whining to my dad about it one day when he was visiting for Christmas. He and I have an almost identical world view, so I thought he would be the ideal person to ask. Well what he said certainly had an impact. 

After a lot of me giving the back story and him trying to tell me how to prioritize my life, he said, "If art was your dominant priority, you'd be doing it right now." 

I was furious! Didn't he understand that I was sacrificing for my family? That I had prayed about my choices? That I was the woman and so certain things just fell on me and I had no choice? That the only thing the Universe seemed to support creatively right now was projects on my house? I must be talking to a man. AHHHHHH!

Cue the tears and HUGE meltdown. 

The thing is (which I realized a day or two later) is, that with my personality type, my dad was right. I ALWAYS do what I want most. And what I'd been doing was working on the house, not making art. And then blaming the Universe for not helping me. I had made the mistake that most of us make so often. I was wrong about what I wanted.

It's crazy easy to be wrong about what you most want. We live in a world full of "should"s and advertising and things to compare ourselves to and a billion opinions about everything. I spent the entire year being completely stunned how wrong I usually was about what I most wanted. Some days, I just really wanted to get the bills paid or the dishes done because they were In.The.Way. Somedays I wanted to wander around outside with my dog. Some days I wanted to upholster a chair, or build a bench. But even though I was often wrong in guessing what I thought I would most want, if figured out a method to tell what I really most wanted. 

When I really want something the most, a stillness and peace comes into my mind as I imagine doing that thing. My nature is turbulence and energy, so stillness is a novelty for me. It has become a marker for me. I don't know if that will be your marker, but you will have one. Maybe if you are a quiet person by nature, what you want will give you energy? All I know is it comes with a sense of peace and rightness. 

But you have to pay attention. Listen to your mind as you go through options. Think, before you commit all your time for that day. Wait until you feel the peace. it will come. Say a little prayer for God to help you, if that helps. He will.

And you can't judge your desires. Sometimes what you want to do can seem really stupid and unimportant. One year I really wanted to make a book of hand turkeys (you know, like in elementary school where you trace your hand and then make it into a turkey) during the Thanksgiving break. Stupid, right? But it was so INSANELY fulfilling! When you feel that peace, go with it. Just say "yes."

So now you know what you want. That's Awesome! But you have this giant life you are trying to cram this Want into. How do you make it fit?

You figure out what it takes to make it happen in general. Then figure out how to fit your life around making it happenHave you always wanted to go to the Hershey Spa and have a massage and chocolate bath? Find out how much it costs, how far away it is, and when it has openings. Figure out when you could save that much money and figure out if you want to go alone or with friends. How will you all get there? When will you go? Is there a time of year that is less crowded or expensive? Figure out the logistics of the thing. Then follow all the steps you've planned until it goes from dream to reality.

When I turned 38, I was two years out from having my youngest and tired all the time. I started watching a show called Shimmy on FitTV (wishful exercise watching) and decided I wanted to learn how to belly dance. 

So I went down the list. I had to find a reputable place that taught belly dancing classes in my area. I had to take these classes on Saturdays, as DK was at work too late on weeknights. I had to figure out how to cover the tuition fees. I had to find a place in my house to practice. I had to find mirrors and the right clothing and music.

And I did it! I found a great studio about 30 min from my house. It was a bit of a drive, but I loved the alone time it gave me just to think about whatever. I found the money for the classes by eating out one less time a week. I used my entryway with $5 full length mirrors from Target leaned up against my front door to practice because it's the only room that has both hardwood and enough space to dance. And DK brought me back some belly dancing music when he went on a business trip to Dubai. So I was set. I bought a hip scarf from the studio and made another one because, they were from Egypt and really nice, but expensive. I took lessons for 3 years and practiced 4-5 days a week in my entry. It was amazing! I felt more alive than I had since high school. I felt like my life belonged to me again. 

Then I had to stop. I had taken so many classes, that only the advanced ones offered on weeknights were left. The kids had gotten into junior high and our nights were packed. And our budget shrank. No matter what I tried, I couldn't make it fit. So I cried a bit and quit.

I am so grateful I put in the effort and made the sacrifice of time and money and practice that required. It was one of my favorite things I have ever done with myself. Just thinking about finally mastering my shimmy or learning how to circle my hips and walk with my arms waving simultaneously makes me smile all the way to my liver. Even though I can't replicate the experience at the moment. And that my friend, is power. 

And I just started a new dream...

and yes, there is some belly dancing. But that's another story for another day.

Go! Find your dream. Listen to the whisperings of what you want most. Put your life back into your life, even if it seems stupid or strange or impossible. The Universe will help you. You will start to feel like you are home in your own life. I know you can do it. 

You guys have any dreams you are working towards or wishes of things you want to do? how is it going? What is your plan? Tell me all about it.

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw