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The Secret Life of Stuff

Help! Project Empty is in danger of succumbing to my Serial Enthusiasm Syndrome. As with every single thing I've ever undertaken in my life, once I get my arms around the general theory, I get bored. But I'm not done with Project Empty yet! My house is still partially full. I really want to keep going.

In a comment this evening on the closely related subject of weight loss, maitheas said, "...one has to literally unravel and examine every thread of one's core beliefs and then re-weave them into a new, healthy pattern."

Powerful words. Manifesting my vision of an empty house will require exactly that unraveling and re-weaving of the core self-concepts that caused me to own too much stuff in the first place.

Decluttering is a little easier than losing weight, and the fabric to be unraveled is coming clear to me as I proceed. Every cache of stuff I tackle invokes a series of memories and internal debates and realizations. As I sift through them, I move from denial, to resistance, to reluctant acceptance, to ruthless glee.

I notice two groupings of emotional clutter. First is Retail Jesus: stuff I once acquired because it was The Answer. The solution to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything. It was going to Save Me. Lots of clothes, shoes, gadgets and books in this group. Getting rid of this stuff clears my head like opening a window on the first day of spring, and makes me feel that I'm fine as I am and need no saving.

The second emotional group is stuff associated with terrible memories, but which I'm hanging on to, nominally because it cost good money, is still useful, isn't empty yet, etc. It's a clever ruse--thrift and virtue pasted over the ugliness that the innocent object has taken on, so that I can continue to beat myself up in good conscience.

Acknowledging the connection to a bad memory means recovering the memory, but by a wonderful parallel, getting rid of the item seems to throw the memory away, too. Turns out that thrift doesn't justify the daily self-flagellation that seeing these items causes me. When I throw these items away, I experience an innocent glee that I associate with being very young.

Each time I go through this process, it gets easier.

A bunch of my friends are doing Project Empties of their own, and reporting on their successes here. roseambr has a great junk drawer post, complete with amusing and impressive pictures, that gave me a kick in the ass this evening. I, too, have a kitchen drawer...


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 19th, 2008 08:55 am (UTC)
Keep going. I've got nowhere this week too, thanks to a rotten cold, but next week is a new week, and the green bin outside will have been emptied, so there will be more space for Stuff.
Feb. 19th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
I soldier on!

The green bin is the universal symbol of the excess of Western Culture, isn't it? I've got one too. One of my goals is to be able to request the twice-monthly, tiny-bin service the waste management company offers as an alternative to the weekly 30-gallon cart.

Meanwhile, that big green bin is like the best friend who brings me drugs and whom I therefore love with a sinful and guilty conscience.
Feb. 19th, 2008 01:47 pm (UTC)
My decluttering this week has been all emotional, and none physical. But I did do some serious housecleaning, as well as a few repair and maintenance items. Also - I did an 'in-between' photo of my dvd shelf, and am now moving on to the real 'after', which involves getting rid of MORE stuff, and consolidating my movies into one single CASE LOGIC case that holds 48 movies but fits in the space of 3.

And a reminder: you decluttered today by not ADDING to your clutter (IKEA return).
Feb. 19th, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC)
That's true! I need to remember to value the emotional decluttering, which seems to go forward on the momentum supplied by intermittent space-clearing.

And yes, returning something unneeded to IKEA was kind of a breakthrough for me: I NEVER return things I've bought.

Also? I pruned my roses. Any garden decluttering, while not on my list of areas to clear, still counts in the general process.

Similarly, don't you think that scraping out moldy grout is a form of decluttering? There's a sort of mental clutter of "tasks that need doing", and I think we need to keep that on our radar as well.
Feb. 19th, 2008 03:29 pm (UTC)
I think what's worse for me is holding onto something that's outlived any use but is connected to a pleasant memory. I have to be in a very cold and bitter mood to get rid of something like that.

My main problem in getting organized is falling prey to decorating crazes. (and yes, they are *crazes*)I don't think I'll ever have that serene, minimalist look my heart calls out for, not as long as I'm tripping over all this flotsam left in the wake of that long ago 'country chic' thing that ate my brain.
Feb. 19th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
Oh man, you've nailed two of the problems that I haven't confronted yet. Thank you for the food for thought!

If getting rid of an object with unpleasant associations helps dissolve those memories, does throwing away a gift from a loved one or a souvenir of a great event equally dissolve those bonds?

It doesn't eeem to work that way, maybe because I want to dissolve the bad memories, and the item in question is the last persistent link binding me to them. Wheras the loved one or the fond memory has a welcome place in my heart, and the ticket stub or the silly little gift can't make them any dearer to me--but it can build resentment as it becomes a clutter problem.

As to the deco trends, hee! Don't you (or haven't you) worked at the most masterful purveyor of home-trend merchandise in the world? Every tiem I go into a Target, they tempt me with this month's latest gorgeous color combinations and complete range of accessories and doo-dads to go with it. It takes a will of iron to resist, especially since their prices are so low.

Somehow, I don't see you as a "country chic" personality deep inside...
Feb. 19th, 2008 04:13 pm (UTC)
You said "Acknowledging the connection to a bad memory means recovering the memory, but by a wonderful parallel, getting rid of the item seems to throw the memory away, too." and it reminds me of being in High School and making a ceremony of burning the ex-boyfriends picture and notes and any other memory items. It's just like that when we clear out stuff that is holding us in a bad place we don't want to be in anymore. This ceremony is less smokey but just as effective.
Feb. 19th, 2008 08:41 pm (UTC)
I've been known to burn things even now...
Feb. 19th, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC)
(Sorry, I lost my train of thought there...) So, continuing is vital, especially now that you have a whole team of cleaning freaks following in your wake. I have noticed that I have chosen some fairly innocent areas to clear out. The big things are still waiting for me, haunting me out of the corner of my eye. Like the storage space in the shop or the garage shelves. Those secret boxes that are holding all my ugly past. Now that will be a cleaning!
Feb. 19th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
Yes! I definitely started with the most innocent messes. Even those, like my mudroom, that involved toxic chemicals didn't involve toxic memories. I think that's why the project seems to have stalled a bit: what's left is really nasty.

But as I experience the benefits (and share the project with other people), my fear of the really bad messes diminishes and I begin to feel pretty brave about tackling them.

This is where thin-slicing really comes into its own, however: I have to remind myself that it's okay to take on only, say, half a shelf, or one cigar box, or just the left side of the cupboard for now.

Meanwhile, I seriously am going to follow your example and do the kitchen drawer tonight when I get home. I do NOT need that dried-up bottle of Superglue.
Feb. 19th, 2008 05:13 pm (UTC)

I'm betting that as your physical space clears, your physical body will change, too.
Feb. 19th, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC)
In my secret heart, that's the whole reason for Project Empty.
Feb. 19th, 2008 05:31 pm (UTC)
you know, you should really create a project_empty community so that everyone who's doing this can post and inspire each other. i would love to be able to read about everyone's success in one place :)
Feb. 19th, 2008 06:43 pm (UTC)
Oooh! What a good idea!

Do you know if you can crosspost automatically in a community and your own journal? I don't have a lot of experience with comms. Any suggestions?
Feb. 19th, 2008 07:15 pm (UTC)
i don't think it's possible to crosspost automatically. usually, i'll write up the post, post it, then click edit and copy all the text and attributes and then post it to the new community/journal i want to post it to.

when you create a new post, you can choose where to post it to by picking the place from the dropdown (the same way you choose which icon to use)
Feb. 19th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'd forgotten about that dropdown--I just ignore it, since I don't have a lot of comm activity. I think I dimly remember it from good old jossercise!
Feb. 19th, 2008 10:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, I like that idea, even though I'll be quiet and lurky. *shiftyeyes*
Feb. 20th, 2008 12:10 am (UTC)
I'm thinking about it--trying to decide if in itself it would constitute "e-clutter," or be a useful service.

What would you say are the advantages of setting up a comm? You've done them way more than I have. I'd value your opinion.
Feb. 20th, 2008 06:55 am (UTC)

I just like making communities, I guess?

Seriously, though: a community gives everyone a central point to share--we don't all share the exact friendslists, after all. Also, if for some reason, a journal goes missing/deleted/locked, the posts stay in the community, keeping them accessible to all, which is good when there's a particular insight someone wants to save.

Superficially, it's also fun to make new layouts/icons for new places.

(Oh, I just remembered a trick I've discovered about cross-posting. If you post to one journal, you can use the back button on your browser, change the location (i.e., a different comm), and hit post again. No copying and pasting needed!)
Feb. 20th, 2008 07:58 am (UTC)
Great tip!

I'll see if the weekend brings me the urge to expand my LJ horizons with a comm of my own devising. Thanks for the insights.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )



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