May 24, 2015

Mental Clutter: May 24, 2015

So my lovely friend and I were discussing, and meticulously planning, our children’s summers this evening.

Each year, she plans ahead of time and I make vague noises in the direction of planning to register the kids for activities.  They have never, therefore, been able to enjoy summer camps in each other’s presence, even though they are great friends (her two and two of my three) and we always want them to go to camps together.

This year I finally decided I needed to actually hop on the planning band wagon.

It’s an odd thing, that I took so long to hop on this particular wagon, because I fret over many, many things, but I don’t fret about planning ahead for summer camps.  Of course, this means that every summer I spend far more time anxiously trying to reach camp directors at the last minute than I would have spent just buckling down and making some choices.  I’ve paid late fees, I’ve dashed in with paperwork as morning activities have started. I’ve had kids turned down for the one camp they really wanted to attend.  It’s ridiculous, really.

Part of it is just the horror of adding up what it costs to send 3 children to summer camps.

When I get it right, though, it’s 100% worth the money and the anxiety (ahead of time, or last minute).  Max, who’d never found a camp he couldn’t learn to dread after day 1 or 2, came back from Sherbrooke Lake Camp with shining eyes and non-stop rhapsodizing for at least a week after.  He was transported, this evening, when describing the joys of said camp for my friend’s child.  Heck, I want to go, too (full disclosure: I did go, as a junior counselor, when I was about 15.  It was (and is) awesome).

And so this all made me think about that other kind of clutter: mental clutter.  My friend ruminates on securing spots for her children, while I spend anxious nights and days worrying about squeaking my kids in by the skin of their teeth.  We each worry about various troubles our children might encounter at camps (based on their varied personalities).  And then there is the worrying about having an action plan in place if something should go wrong while they’re camping.  Fortunately, each of us work for incredibly flexible employers.  But it doesn’t hurt to worry about it in advance.

Except it does, actually.  It’s great to have a fellow fretter, because she can say things like “but it’s all worked out for you and your kids in the end, anyway, hasn’t it?”

Well, yes.  Yes, it has.  We’ve had issues and we’ve dealt with them.  Thus far, Clara has been trouble-free, but we’re not sure she’s old enough for sleepaway camp yet (she’s 7 and ready for anything). Last year, we had to talk Solomon down from a panic attack, on the phone, from his first sleepaway camp that was located over 2 hours away by car.  This year he’s quivering with excitement at the prospect of going to an even longer camp (Sherbrooke). And over the years, we have had to allow Max to withdraw from various camps because his general easy going nature was so far gone we could hardly recognize him.

But none of it was avoided, managed, or mitigated by fretting about it.

Tonight, after my friend left, Solomon asked me “were you actually worried about me at camp last summer?” (meaning, after the first night when he called and could hardly talk he was sobbing so hard and we had to swear we’d come get him in the morning if he woke up and still did not want to be there and after almost an hour on the camp counselor’s phone we had him calmed enough to lie in his sleeping bag and promise to call us in an hour if he was still upset).  Yes, we were actually worried.  He chuckled at this, shook his head a little, and walked off.

Just so much mental clutter…

Day 205 scorecard: 1025 down, 800 to go



(let’s all pretend I am not, now, fretting about remembering to actually register the children…)

May 23, 2015

Wardrobe Function: May 23, 2015

I’m not even sure whether Max’s clothes should count as part of this project.  I just bought him about 10 pairs of pants in the fall.  4 now fit, including 1 of the 4 I bought today.  Which is a perfectly good reason to dispense of clothing (or, in this case, to store away for use by Solomon, in a couple of years).  This week, however, I’ve been pondering the notion of clothing more than usual.

See, this week the CBC did a radio feature on Matilda Kahl, a woman who gave up wearing anything other than her self-chosen “uniform” to work each day.  In a nutshell, she was completely fed up with the stress of selecting outfits everyday, so she bought multiples of one outfit.

Sadly, I was unable to tune in, but it was a topic of conversation that came up at work.  I am one of two “Lady Lawyers” (as my friend Josh likes to call women lawyers) at my office.  We both enjoy wearing things that express our personality, but we’ve both considered the ‘pass’ that male lawyers get: they really only need one suit.  It’s the lawyer uniform.  It doesn’t really seem quite fair that there is not a women’s lawyer uniform.  We both wondered if maybe, just maybe, we could dare to follow Kahl’s lead.  I think we both had reservations.

Clothing is so weird, though, and our reasons for hanging onto it are weird, too.  I have items of clothing that fit me when I weighed less, and items of clothing that fit me when I weighed more.  I have some clothes I never, ever wear, but I really liked when I bought them.  There are things I try on on a regular basis and consistently choose not to wear.  And then there are the clothes that are way past their prime, but I still love them so.

I’ve also read about a variant of the one-outfit-fits-all approach that is, essentially, the intentional wardrobe approach.   This is what is referred to as a Capsule Wardrobe (a term I thought was a recent invention but Wikipedia begs to differ, dating it back to the 1970s).  Unlike owning only one item, with multiple copies, this concept is about owning multiple (but very limited) pieces that perform multiple functions.   This blogger has a great article with a picture that beautifully illustrates the concept.

I do note, however, that Ms. Kahl commented that the initial investment in her all-purpose outfit was enormous.  I would love to have a capsule wardrobe, but it is a serious commitment.  That said, I think an excellent approach to winnowing out one’s wardrobe is to ask all the usual questions (have I worn it in a year, do I feel good wearing it, does it actually fit me) but also to ask – can this article of clothing work in more than one way? Maybe it is a skirt that only works with a form-fitting shirt in a particular colour.  Or maybe it’s that pair of black pants that looks completely casual with a t-shirt and sneakers, or can hold its own with a pair of heels and a dressy blouse.

It’s a thought.

If only I were more fashionable.  To be honest, I’m actually more leaning toward the uniform concept.  Imagine the freedom.

Day 204 scorecard: 1020 down, 805 to go



May 22, 2015
May 21, 2015

Art, Interpreted: May 21, 2015

As we’ve become so close over these months, I thought it was time to share a little more about myself.  Of course, as I am currently entering my dotage, it is entirely possible I’ve told you this before, but please bear with me.

I used to go to art school.  The rumours are true. I drew (with pencils) obsessively through high school and beyond until I was 20-something.  One day, I was in the middle of drawing a large picture (of my Birkenstocks, actually, which I wore at that time) when I suddenly got completely bored out of my mind.  I’ve never spent any time drawing anything since.  A doodle here and there, sure, but nothing special.

However, some of the folk I went to NSCAD with have gone on to be real, live artists.  Some are art teachers. Some did really weird stuff like become lawyers.  I know how odd that sounds, but it is entirely true. For those future lawyers, one thing that was very popular back in my day at NSCAD drove us bonkers.

It is called “Conceptual Art.”  I have no idea if it is still a thing, or if it is a thing at NSCAD still, but it was all the rage back in the early 90s.

Mostly it was just weird ideas that people came up with and sort of ‘did’ in a way that just looked like they were doing nothing (in my jaded and overly literal mind).  One guy, though, did something I still find kind of hilarious and clever.

Here is a photo of the ‘concept’ and the resulting news story:

Keeping this for decades kind of entirely defeats the ephemeral intention of conceptual art.

Keeping this for decades kind of entirely defeats the ephemeral intention of conceptual art.

To this day, I’m not sure when the quarters became nickels, but maybe the journalist got it wrong.  We’ll never know, unless you know Stephen Clayton Ellwood, the artist.

The concept was entirely lost on the journalists because they, much like me, were too literal.  His concept, see, was to have the media show up just in time to have missed everything.  Their convergence on one location with nothing to report on was the concept (so: the “art”).

This hilarious part about the news item is the indignant tone the journalist took.   S/he claims to “get” the concept (“a comment on greed, society — the usual stuff”) while also angrily dismissing art’s place in society (the utter madness of our TAX DOLLARS paying for this stuff!).  I love how the rage against tax dollars really missed the point that the money came from society at large…and went back to society at large.

I loved this because it was one time conceptual art worked perfectly as it was intended and it was so wonderfully executed.  He prepared a trap and it snapped shut right on cue.

…and so I’ve kept this souvenir all these years…for a reason that I just don’t get.

But now I’ve shared it with you and I can happily let it go.

Stephen Clayton Ellwood: well done, if you’re out there somewhere, arting along.

Day 202 scorecard: 1010 down, 815 to go

May 20th, 2015

Cosmetic Clutter: May 20, 2015

I have an unhealthy relationship with make-up (or cosmetics, since I’m feeling fancy).  In high school I wore too much white face powder and too much red lipstick.  Then I wore nothing at all for years.  My Grandmother (whom I loved very much and miss very dearly) once told me that if I was going to the airport to pick up my husband, I had better put on some blush* because if I “went like that” he would think I didn’t love him.

Of course, I’m always good with a sassy comeback, so I said something along the lines of “Nah, he’d wonder if I were having an affair because he knows I know how much he dislikes make-up.”

My most unhealthy interlude with make-up came when I (oh, the shame) shilled for a company that rhymes with Fairy Day for a couple of years.  Yes, I looked great, but the fact that I broke almost exactly even after 2 years of hard work meant that I was extremely lucky.  It’s kind of a ponzi scheme for the ladies.

I am, however, here to talk about decluttering and, today, why make-up often fits squarely within the category of clutter.

My list today is less about the products themselves than on the motivation for keeping or buying something in the first place.

Here are five reasons I have trouble parting with cosmetics in spite of them crowding out the things I actually like so I can never find them:

1.  The “not so fast, mister!” phenomenon:

I have very pale skin and pale lips.  I can put the softest shade of faintness on my lips and look like a “streetwalker” as the more refined folk used to say.  I really have never looked into whether sex workers tend to wear bright lipstick.  In any case, I have often purchased something to subtly provide some colour to my lips, only to discover it is entirely unsuitable.  However, buying it, trying it once, and immediately throwing it out just seems so wasteful and indulgent.  So I have clung to many a gloss, balm, stick, or other form of lip colour over the years, filling up my drawers…

2. The “commitment heavy” product problem:

These are the products I’m keen to use, with promised results I’m anxious to have, but that I am utterly unwilling to devote the necessary time to more than once or twice.  A nightly beauty mask that only needs to sit for 15 minutes?  Yeah, no. Again: this makes me feel terribly wasteful.

3. The “close but no cigar” products (so tantalizingly infuriating):

Then there are the products that I bought which fit all my expectations but one.  My latest bad purchase was great in every way except it was too hard to put on.  Today, I bravely picked up a liquid version (rather than the stick style).  By gum, I will not hang onto it out of some sense of obligation to the original.

4. Special occasion products (otherwise known as bacteria heaven):

Things like mascara I reserve for special occasions.  Thus, I think to wear it maybe 3 times per year.  It seems ridiculous to buy a new tube for each occasion, so I end up keeping mascara far past its shelf life.  Somehow, I have (thus far) avoided conjunctivitis. But for how long?

5. The perfectly perfect rare gem I can’t let go:

And finally, the rare cosmetic that does exactly what I want it to do and that love very much…so much so that I have a hard time parting with it even when it is very obviously past its best-before date.  Especially if it’s not empty.

I need to stop buying into (literally) all these stupid expectations.

Day 201 scorecard: 1005 down, 820 to go

* if memory serves, I do believe she called it “rouge,” a term I feel nostalgic for.  It seems to have left our lexicon sometime around the demise of the “cream rinse.”  Blush and conditioner are so pedestrian in comparison.

May 19, 2015

5 Good Reasons to De-Clutter (1000 Down): May 19th, 2015

Trust me, dear reader, I’m writing this for me as much as I am writing it for you.  There are times when the sheer magnitude of the task overwhelms me and makes me want to return to my accumulating/hoarding/over-sentimentalizing ways.

So here is a list, as I see it today:

1. Because it is good for your brain when you de-clutter!  It is soothing and calming and helps you focus on what you really need.

2. Because it is popular and you want to be trendy, right? There are all kind of theories about why de-cluttering is gaining momentum, but I like to think the real reason is we’re just getting tired of being manipulated into wanting more, more, more.

3. Because tiny houses are all the rage and you might want to move into one some day soon.  A cold winter can seriously dampen one’s enthusiasm for owning a monster-sized house.  Why pay to heat (or air-condition) giant rooms filled with crap?

4. Because you’re never going to keep up with the Joneses anyway, and you’re setting a terrible example for your children just by trying to keep up.  Nancy Colier writes, in Psychology Today, “Not getting helps children develop the confidence that their value as a person is based on more than just owning what their friends own, and their friendships about sharing more than just products.”

5. Because it will build your fortitude and strength of character, which is kind of a huge reward for just getting rid of stuff you don’t need anyway, right?

There.  Now I feel rejuvenated and ready to face my stuff.

Day 200 scorecard: 1oo0 down, 825 to go


May 18, 2015

Nanoseconds of Regret: May 18, 2015

Today I got that awful overwhelmed feeling that sometimes (okay, almost always) accompanies thoughts of purging.

I thought about ways I could get someone else to sort through the stuff I dread sorting through the most: mementos and letters.

My thoughts went like this: “I hate sorting through old letters because I inevitably open some and then I feel the feelings I felt then and I’m either sad or nostalgic and I hate it…so maybe I can pay someone to sort through the letters and just throw them out and I won’t even know!”

Then I realized that was a really stupid approach.  I’m a grown-up.  I can be brave and bite the bullet.

And so I shredded the letters so I would not be tempted to go back through and read and ruminate on things.  Shredding really IS awesome because it is fun so it is easy to power through the nanoseconds of regret each time a new letter starts to get chewed up.

I bet I shredded 50 letters.

I think the trick is just not to look too carefully to see who sent them and when.  That is a rabbit hole that you just do not want to go down.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m so grateful for email.  What a revolution.

Day 199 scorecard: 995 down, 830 to go