I used to imagine a house, with white walls and polished floorboards. There was a kitchen looking out to the garden. It was a vague kind of dream, less about physical details than a feeling. But it was a dream about safety and freedom. A dream about peace. And here I am now, in a house with white walls and floorboards. There’s a kitchen that looks out to the garden. It’s freezing and it’s chaotic and it looks like I moved in yesterday, but it’s mine. It’s mine. I’m not holding my breath anymore.
I need to appreciate this. I get almost daily reminders via email and text that I am a bad person who is responsible for breaking up a family. I have to manage two kids and sometimes the sheer drudgery of it all makes me want to cry. But this is mine. This chaos is mine. This house is mine. This decision is mine. This peace is mine. Breathe it in. Be thankful.
What a long time since I visited my own blog! I occasionally get some evidence that someone has visited and read a post. Hello to you few, if you’re still out there, and thank you. Life is proving challenging at the moment, and I’m facing some difficult and life-changing decisions. Perhaps this is the time when I need writing the most.
A friend and I recently played The Minimalist Game. I spotted this online and it seemed the ideal way to begin (yet again) the on again/off again process of dealing with all my stuff. I love a system to follow and this seemed perfect, starting off slowly and building momentum. The idea is to spend a month getting rid of excess stuff. One thing goes on the first day, two on the second, three on the third, and so on (continue like that and it adds up to 496 items). We both took longer than a month to get rid of a month’s worth of things, but we made it (and are continuing the culling process).
It has been an interesting and challenging project, and I have learned a lot about myself and my reasons for holding on to things. There have been days I have just flown through the process, finding items to cull with reckless abandon. Other days it has seemed like the most arduous task. I have spent much time, while sifting through boxes of belongings, pondering my relationship to stuff and why I keep what I do (and why it is so hard to get rid of).
A few weeks ago I tried to tackle this box, and failed. I got rid of a small pile of papers and just didn’t know how to deal with the rest: letters, articles, photos, travel memorabilia, scribbled musings, the invitation to my wedding (we divorced some years ago). It strikes me that so much of this process is about facing past failure and unrealised potential and ambition. All the ideas that didn’t get followed through with, the life-changing books that never got read, the friends that have moved on, the past plans that came to nothing, the beginnings of projects that were abandoned.
Even the happy memories and the souvenirs of more carefree times confront me. How did I get from there to where I am now? Why did I make the decisions I did? How did the path that seemed destined for one place end up here instead? The stuff I store away from my past is not just a time capsule, memorialising an era or a place. It is also a kind of harsh light that shines on my present. Why, instead of grasping the opportunities and pursuing the dreams I had then, did I make the decisions that brought me here? Daily I have been confronted with my deficit of courage. Can I find some now?
I’m living a lie. Gritting my teeth and trying to pretend that this is manageable. That is why I haven’t been on here for so long. Recently I was reading Sash Milne’s blog, Inked in Colour, and she wondered “how people can present such perfect lives without any real blemishes” on social media. The internet is clogged with so many shiny presentations of seeming perfection; all those blogs filled with pictures of happy couples and cute children and home-baked goodness. And it makes me feel nauseous – a little like when I walk through a giant shopping centre, so many promises and so much shine but so little substance. So that’s why I don’t write. As Sash wrote, “somehow on social media we can be whoever we want the world to see us to be”. But how much energy that must take, energy I just don’t have.
“But who are we when noone is watching? Isn’t that what really matters, who we are at our very core, the essence of ourselves without an audience, the way we are in our communities, the way we talk to our families, the way we parent our children, the way we live our lives outside of a spotlight. Isn’t that what’s really important?
I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am when no one is watching.
Who are you?”
Yet, we do have an audience when we are with our families, our communities, our friends. We can be just as false and equally as well hidden in those realms where we should be most authentic and intimate. If I am only authentic when I am alone, what is the point? So many of my actions are a fraud; my true self is in hiding. I choose not to write. To write would be to own up to the truth—to make it public, even if only to a few people—and to necessitate action. I am stuck. I have chosen to embed myself in a deeply dysfunctional relationship. We are going through the motions of counselling, but it is so evident to me that we will never have true intimacy and connection. We make each other a little less every day. I stay there because of my son and because of all the drama and hurt and messiness that change will bring. I stay because he wants me to, though I don’t really know why. But there is no other option than to initiate change. No other option than to break this destructive cycle. I want to breathe again. I want to live – for myself and for my son. I feel compelled to write—I always have—but am unsure of the point of blogging about sadness and unhappiness for an audience of virtually noone.
I started this faltering blog with the idea of documenting my quest to rid myself of stuff. That effort has been as spasmodic as my writing efforts, but perhaps it’s always been more of a metaphor anyway. I want to simplify. I want to learn to be content with little. I want to fall on my own resources and find them adequate to the task. I am living a lie and I have to speak the truth. It is as simple as that. That truth is there, right in front of me, poking and prodding and nagging me to listen. Last night I held my son and he kept putting his little boy monster hands right in my face and growling and poking and tickling me. He is so in your face, completely unencumbered with a sense of ‘personal space’. My space is his space. My body is his body. That’s what my life feels like – the truth is hectoring me constantly, wanting to be acknowledged and acted upon – and soon it will start up a constant yelling.
My poor neglected blog. Twice I began the Zero to Hero Challenge in an effort to give this space the time and thought it deserves, but life took over and I abandoned my efforts at daily attention to this online room. Though that is a poor excuse really. I’ve been realising something about the decision (and it is always a decision) to not write. For me, writing is truth. I can’t come to the page or the screen and spin a tall tale. It’s where I come to bare a small piece of my mind and my soul, and to sort out what is real and true. But that’s the problem. If I write, then I will have to own up to the truth about things. And if I own up to the truth about things, then perhaps I will have to DO something. I will have to act, and that is a weighty proposition indeed.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem enough simply to do something. Actions can be so small and quiet. I clean my kitchen shelves, I go shopping, I talk on the phone, I make pizza, I bathe my son, I sit here and write in semi-darkness. Any one of these actions can be weighty with meaning and significance. But you won’t know this, just by looking. And often I won’t know until I put down in words the sense I have of that weight.
Writing about an act, or a thought, or an image, can somehow solidify it, making clear its meaning and importance. This happens regardless of whether anyone reads the text. Writing draws out meaning. Writing makes patterns clear. Writing is a way of honouring that which might otherwise go unnoticed. Even if the writing itself goes unnoticed.
It doesn’t really matter if you read this blog or not. I’ll be glad if you do, but it’s enough to put down the words and set them adrift in this busy ocean. That matters, even if I cannot yet say exactly why.
In January I attempted the first WordPress Zero To Hero Challenge, with the intention of nurturing and developing my brand new blog. My posts, however, rapidly dwindled as I let the demands of life overtake me. Committing to a daily assignment was challenging. But now it’s time to dust myself off, reacquaint myself with this little blog, and try again.
I began this blog late last year with a specific and quite focused purpose:
“Stuff is potent. It carries meaning and memory. It contains history and hopes and ambitions and unrealised dreams. I want less of it clogging my house and troubling my mind, but I want to pay my respects as I say goodbye. I wish to pay homage: not to objects of paper and wood and cloth and ceramic and metal, but to people and to love and to loss.
This blog is my attempt to pay homage to things, as I throw them away and give them away, bury them and burn them.”
I had long wanted to come to grips with my excessive amount of accumulated stuff, but felt the need to contemplate and document this process. Which was all very well and good, but a little too specific and exclusive in theme for the disorganised beginner blogger. I had a self-imposed rule that I could only write a blog post if I was also getting rid of something. Needless to say, my quest to cull pretty much ground to a halt. And this left me nothing to blog about.
It’s time to loosen up a bit and allow myself a longer blogging leash. At the moment I am trying to find out if I have it in me to write professionally. I want to know if I have something to say that someone wants to read. I want to connect with others and expand my horizons, even if only in the digital realm. I want to share a little of my take on the world and witness yours. I also want to get rid of some more of that damned stuff.
This week I dug these shoes out from under my desk. Their soles were half detached, the elastic was stretched and the heels worn down; they looked like they had come to the end of a long and useful life. Time to let them go, you might think, and throw them in the bin. Buy no, I had to wash them and glue the soles back on. I did the same with another pair of shoes that look much worse. The objective is to pass them on, but who would want them?
My son loved these pink shoes. They are too small for him now, but he wore them and wore them, delighting in their pinkness on his two-year-old feet. He chose them himself from a charity shop. It always surprised me how many comments I received prompted by those pink shoes on a little boy’s feet. The subtext often seemed to be that he’d surely turn out gay if I allowed him to wear pink shoes (especially when combined with a floral hat and his yellow shorts with blue stars). I just delighted in his love of bright colours and flowers and patterns and nature, untainted as yet by the taught awareness of what boys should and shouldn’t like and wear and do.
As I painstakingly glued the shoes back together, I pondered again my relationship to material things. Is it perverse to keep the kinds of things I do and to have so much trouble parting with them? Is it absurd to prolong the life of a worn pair of shoes by a few months? As I pursue this halting project of trying to come to grips with my stuff, I have been reading about hoarding. While my relationship with stuff would not merit a psychiatric diagnosis, I realise that I share many characteristics with those who have a hoarding disorder. The difference is only one of degree. I attach meaning to so many things others would deem worthless or insignificant. I hate waste and feel guilty about wasting material things. I access memories through seeing and holding the objects I keep. I notice small details and the beauty in discarded things. I busily shuffle my stuff around instead of getting rid of it.
I’ve been reading this amazing book about hoarding. The authors reflect on the fact that many hoarders have great intelligence and particular highly-developed capacities. Yet those capacities are used in such a way as to diminish rather than enhance their lives.
“Although hoarding is considered a mental disorder, it may stem from an extraordinary ability. For hoarders, every object is rich with detail. …the physical world of hoarders is different and much more expansive than that of the rest of us. Whether we look at them and see limitless potential, limitless information, limitless utility, or limitless waste, [hoarders] are undeniably free of the usual rules that affect how we view and treat our stuff.” Frost & Steketee, p. 15.
Recently I was talking to a friend about how oppressive I found living with all my stuff, yet how difficult it was to get rid of it. “I attach too much meaning to things’, I said. He replied that this was the mark of an artist. I know that I too have capacities and talents that yearn to be usefully harnessed. But how?