Getting unstuck

I’d like to say that I’ve had writer’s block lately, but I think it’s more honest to say I’ve been stuck, or just busy with other things. However, I think the universe is conspiring to unstick me, or at least point me in the right direction.

Earlier this week, I found a post on Gretchen Rubin’s blog that included this quote from author Eric Hoffer: “When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else.”

A side note – Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a book about finding more happiness, and why it’s important to do so. I found it so interesting when I first read it on a plane, that I pulled out a notebook and started making notes.

When I read her post this week, I knew immediately that the one big thing I ought to be doing is getting my house organized, as I wrote in November after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo.

Even though I didn’t make a formal New Year’s resolution this year, I decided that 2015 would be the year I tame my black holes, purge items I no longer need, and go through the last few unopened boxes from our move ten years ago.

And even though it’s only February, the decluttering and organizing have been calling my name more loudly than the writing projects have. Sigh.

I’ve been fairly consistent about decluttering, but there’s still a lot to do, and I’ve been reluctant to blog about it. My two main focuses in this blog have been writing and food. Decluttering would be a whole other blog. But, especially when you work from home, life tends to seep into your work, and vice versa.

I do have a freelance assignment that I’ll be working on this weekend, so that’s one thing that will move my writing off the back burner.

I also ran into a colleague the other day, and we talked about freelancing. I was curious about how he structured his day, and was inspired by his productivity.

This morning, I read Judith Timson’s column in the Toronto Star about “our stuff,” which made me feel better about my own stuff, and spurred me to write this post. The truth is, I haven’t put off writing this post  just because it’s outside the scope of my blog, but also because I’m a bit embarrassed by how long it’s taking me to deal with the “stuff.”

But one of the lessons I’ve learned since I lost my dad in 2008 is that things take as long as they take. Grief, for example. Decluttering, too.

I’ve found that getting rid of stuff isn’t actually hard. Deciding what to keep, and what not to, is the real difficulty, and sometimes the slowest part. Kondo’s book has helped me think differently about some items that I might have kept for sentimental reasons in the past, but the whole process is still a challenge.

When the one big thing you need to do could take a whole year, you have to figure out how to make time for other things that are also important.

Progress isn’t necessarily linear. You move forward, you slip back for a bit, and then you move forward again.

 

 

 

 

 

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What I read on my way to Japan

I usually read at least one book when I’m away on vacation, and more often than not it’s fiction. But on my way to Japan for a two-week trip that began at the end of November, I started with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

Keeping my clutter manageable is an ongoing issue (it took five months after I was downsized to deal with my work stuff and get it out of my dining room).

So, naturally, I was drawn to this book when I read about it online in The New York Times.

The author is a 30-year-old Japanese decluttering guru who advocates a clean sweep approach to paring down your stuff: go through everything once and for all, and get rid of anything that doesn’t bring you joy.

She prescribes a category-by-category method (instead of room-by-room), and advises starting with clothes and working your way through categories that are progressively more difficult to make decisions about.

Her approach appealed to me, and felt natural: I’ve always liked to start with easy tasks, even when I was a student doing homework assignments. It’s kind of like warming up before a workout.

Also, I like her what-sparks-joy criterion. It makes the first few decisions easy, and gets the momentum going.

I started going through my clothes this past weekend, even though there are always so many things to do after a trip that I wondered if I should wait.

But I realized that editing your possessions after a trip makes sense. You have to make the same kind of decisions before you go away, ideally packing only what you need. If you do it right, you realize you can get by very well without everything you have at home. So you’re already in the right mindset.

Reading the book on the plane to Japan provided a low-key introduction to some aspects of Japanese culture that only became apparent once I was there. As a North American, I found it strange that Marie Kondo, the author, anthropomorphizes her possessions, treating them as if they have feelings.

But when I learned more about the Shinto religion, particularly the belief that everything has a spirit, the book just seemed more “Japanese.” On a day trip to Mount Fuji, for example, a guide told us that in the samurai period, people believed the mountain would get angry and erupt if women climbed it.

Kondo places a lot of emphasis on how to fold clothes, an allusion not just to origami and the proper folding of a Japanese kimono, but to folding as an inherent part of Japanese culture, something I noticed in the wrapping of purchases.

I feel as if my new organizing project is an outgrowth of my trip. It will be interesting to see where it takes me. According to Kondo, some of her clients have found new career focus (and even new life focus) after organizing their homes. Getting rid of items like books that no longer reflect current passions can make evident what is most important, because that’s all that’s left. I guess that’s why “life-changing magic” is part of the title.

 

 

 

The urge to purge (clutter)

A post by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, caught my eye this morning. It’s called “A Secret to Happiness? Don’t Get Organized.”

Huh?

I thought organizing was a good thing. Lately, I’ve been gearing up for some serious decluttering. There always seems to be more of it to do. Sigh. I’ve been feeling the urge to purge for weeks, but haven’t had time to tackle it except in a small way.

Spoiler alert – Rubin isn’t advising not to tackle the clutter at all.

Instead, she says to get rid of things, so you don’t have to organize them. We are on the same page after all.

 

 

 

 

No more dining room-slash-office

It’s almost two months since I wrote in a blog post that I’d finally emptied one of three bankers’ boxes I borrowed from a friend when I lost my job at The Canadian Jewish News in early summer.

That was a significant milestone in my post-downsizing journey as well as in my getting-the-house-organized journey.

For a number of reasons, the boxes and other paraphernalia from 22 years at the paper ended up in my dining room, which was serving as my office.

As of Sunday, I am officially out of the dining room. It’s been a slow move, but it’s now complete, five months after I was downsized. The dining room-slash-office is once again the dining room… not dining room-slash-anything.

Instead, an extra bedroom is now my new office. It’s a work in progress, but reclaiming the dining room has given me hope and confidence that I’ll continue to move forward with this project too, as well as with my writing life, post-downsizing.

Lessons from my new front door mat

In last Thursday’s post, I wrote that I miss my paper to-do list, in part because I knew at a glance which items were older.

The truth is, I still know at a glance if an item is new or old… although now I have to scroll down to see all the items on my iPhone list.

Sometimes I end up inputting the same item a second time, or literally moving it closer to the top of the list, so that it won’t fall through the cracks.

Recently I deleted a couple of longstanding home-related items on the list. They weren’t “major” tasks in terms of difficulty or how they would affect my life, but removing them from the list felt like a significant accomplishment.

Probably the most symbolic one for me was finding a new front door mat to replace the ratty old one. In addition to all the work-related things I wanted – and still want – to accomplish, I needed to tend to things in the house. I thought I would start at the front door, and work my way in.

The new mat didn’t make it to the top of the list for a long time, and it was nagging at me. I felt I hadn’t properly “started” to work my way through the house.

Now, when I think about my new front door mat, it reminds me that:

1. Sometimes things loom large psychologically, but don’t really take a huge amount of effort.

2. The payoff can be disproportionately large, compared to the amount of work involved.

3. Starting at the beginning – taking one step – makes it easier to get to the next step.

4. Little things can make a difference.

5. Sometimes, little things turn out to be big things.

Yesterday I set the timer on my phone for fifteen minutes, and worked on the book that I’ve been neglecting for the past couple of weeks. Just a little effort, and I feel like I’m back on track.

 

 

 

Order from chaos

Yesterday, I started preparing for Friday night dinner at my house. There will be 13 of us, which means we’ll be eating in the dining room, aka my home office.

I’ve been away twice in the past month, once for four nights, and once for three. I’ve also attended a job fair and a few other work-related events where I picked up literature and other paraphernalia that have accumulated on the dining room table. I’ve been referring to some of the items in my writing, and would like them at hand for follow-up.

In the months since I was downsized, we’ve had some meals in the dining room, but this week the amount of stuff on the table this week seemed more daunting than before.

Yesterday I decided I would focus on two things – preparing for the dinner, and working on an article. I checked off a few other items on my to-do list, but they were tasks that didn’t take long, and needed to be done. Everything else, I decided, would wait.

It was a productive day, and my dining room table looks much more manageable now.

I like making order from chaos.

Measurable progress

Before I stopped working in June, I borrowed three cardboard bankers’ boxes from a friend, and filled them with notes, pictures and other items I’d accumulated over 22 years at the same job. This morning, I was very happy to return one of the boxes.

Emptying out the last few items yesterday, I felt like I’d reached a milestone in my post-downsizing journey.

Although I’ve been chipping away at the other two boxes as well, having a completely empty box means that my progress is now measurable in a new way.

I didn’t give myself a deadline for going through everything, and sometimes I wonder if it’s taking longer than it should.

But, deep down, I believe that it will take as long as necessary, and the important thing is that I’m moving forward.

I didn’t blog on Tuesday (the other day that I post work-related thoughts) because I spent the day traveling home after a family wedding in Sacramento. It would have been easy not to post anything today too.

In my first post, on July 9, I wrote that I was starting the blog as a way to keep writing, bring structure to my day, and figure out – or evolve into – what’s next in my life. As well as focusing on writing/journalism and career paths, I planned to write about food, which I do on Fridays and Sundays (food in general, on Fridays; and chocolate specifically, on Sundays). I realize now that the blog is also keeping me accountable, and serving as a means to measure my progress while I figure out what’s next.