Comfort List

I’m not on a diet (currently), but I am trying to redefine my relationship with food.  For example, I tend to go to food for comfort rather than just for sustenance.  If I’m depressed or lonely or anxious, I reach for some ice cream or pizza or a big bowl of buttered popcorn.

When I talked to a friend about my tendency to use food as comfort, she had an idea.  Make a list of things and activities that bring me comfort, and then try to add more of those things into my daily life.  I can also pull out the list whenever I find myself about to turn to food for comfort.

I think it might be an excellent idea.

Here’s my first draft of my Comfort List.  I’m sure there are more things to come as I have time to mull it over.

  • Nature walks
  • books
  • cats
  • photography
  • collaging
  • naps
  • movies
  • lunch dates
  • birds
  • prayer/meditation
  • writing

So next time instead of grabbing a carton of ice cream, maybe I could grab a soft, furry, purring cat.  Or write a poem.  Or read a chapter in whatever book I’m reading.

Also, I made a list of the foods I turn to for comfort and cleared them out of the house.  In the past, that wouldn’t have stopped me from eating the items.  It just meant I’d make an emergency run to the store or to Dairy Queen.  Now, before I run to the store, I’ll try turning to my Comfort List.  We’ll see if it makes a difference.

What happens to our stuff?

I read a short story recently where one of the characters, an older woman, had a spare room where she kept much loved items that friends — who were downsizing or moving to nursing facilities — gave to her for safe keeping.  Things they didn’t want falling into the hands of people who wouldn’t appreciate the specialness of these items.  This woman had a room that was full of other people’s cabinets and collections and curios and china.,

While I’ve been decluttering, I’ve realized that I’ve become the keeper of the family “things.”  Furniture, musical instruments, china, photographs, books.  I don’t want to become the woman in the story with the room dedicated to polishing someone else’s keepsakes.  This story gave me food for thought.  What is worth keeping?  I’ve already decided I want to clear out my excess stuff so people who come after me don’t have to make decisions about what to do with my things.  But what do I do with the things I’ve accumulated that have meaning to me, but maybe not enough meaning to keep hauling them from one house to another.

Interesting how random things like this short story I stumbled upon will pop up at opportune moments.

Spring Decluttering

I read a short article today about how Spring Decluttering is a good way to begin Spring Cleaning.  The less stuff we own, the less stuff we need to clean.

As you know, if you’ve been following this blog or my Facebook page, I’m in the midst of a big decluttering spree in preparation for moving to a smaller house.  If you’re not preparing to downsize and just like the idea of getting rid of some household clutter, I have a couple of quick suggestions.

Start with the areas of the house where you spend the most time.  For example, the living room and the kitchen.  Clearing out clutter from the most used areas will give you a feeling of freshness and lightness right away.  If you start with somewhere closed off, like a basement or storage room, the door can be closed, and all your hard work is hidden.  Wait before you tackle the office or attic.  Start with the visible areas.

If you’re starting in the living room, try starting with decorations, DVDs, CDs, books, and coffee-table clutter.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do I need it?
  2. Do I love it?
  3. Why do I have it?
  4. What would I do if didn’t have it?

Spring decluttering is a great way to begin Spring cleaning.

No Longer Paralyzed to Declutter

When I realized I was going to be moving into a smaller home, I looked around at my rooms full of things and felt overwhelmed.  I’ve lived in this house for more than fifteen years.  A variety of people have come and gone, leaving behind things that I never knew what to do with.

Looking at my houseful of stuff, I’d sometimes felt paralyzed and even guilty.  I’d thought that I “should” have kept from accumulating so many things.  I “should” have been better at letting things go.  Shame.  Embarrassment.  Frozen.

But now, instead of just feeling general embarrassment and overwhelm, preparing for the new home and the new life it would bring became something that somehow freed me from the guilt and shame.  It’s just stuff.  Now I just need to sort through it all and figure out what is going to make the move with me, and what’s going to go to a donation bin to make someone else happy.

I don’t want to be weighted down with junk.  In my home, I want the freedom and space to create.  I want a home that is welcoming and that I share with visitors without shame.  I want to be nurtured by my home.  I want it to be livable and clean.  I want to be content with where I am, and content with what I have.

I’d read an article about Swedish Death Cleaning, and had decided, in many ways, that was what I was preparing to do.  Paring my things down so that those people who come after me won’t have a huge task of going through my belongings after I’m gone.  Not only will things be lighter for me now, my collection of “stuff” will be lighter for others later.

Since I had a year to prepare for the move, I felt the freedom to take my time, go slow, and do it well.  We’re two months into that year and I’ve accomplished quite a bit in three rooms of the house.  No room is finished yet, but they’re getting closer.

Part of me wants to dive in and go crazy and get it done quickly, but I know myself.  I would just end up burned out and then find myself not wanting to finish.  And because there is a set time frame for moving, this is a job that has to be finished.  I don’t have the option to get burned out and save it for another day.

I think it’s important when undertaking a decluttering job of this magnitude, to keep in mind your own personality type.  Some people need a big project that they can dive into and get done quickly.  Others need to bite off bits and pieces of the project so as not to get overwhelmed.  One of the things I try to tell myself when I work a little bit on this big project is, “Whatever I do — right now, today — is an improvement, and a step in the right direction.”

I also find it’s helpful to try to do away with the sense that I need to do this the “right” way.  I just need to get on with it.  Muddle my way through.  There are so many books out there on decluttering and homemaking, that it can get easy to get locked into thinking there’s only one way to accomplish this process, and every other way is “wrong.”  For example, I’ve learned a lot from people like FlyLady and Marie Kondo.  I use many of their techniques and find them helpful.  BUT I also know that I need to adapt their ideas to fit with me and my own tendencies and personality in order to bring about lasting change and success.

I took some time out from decluttering this week to read a book called Declutter by Debora Robertson.  I found it inspiring in the sections on actual decluttering, but a big part of the book was about homemaking and how to keep your house clean.  Which really didn’t apply to my undertaking.  I realized that my project of downsizing is a different sort of project than just choosing to declutter the house and keep it from getting overwhelmed.  My experience really is more of a Swedish Death Cleaning type of project.

If you’re wanting to declutter, do you think you’d do better by doing a little at a time, or doing one big push to accomplish a lot at once?  Are you looking to pare things down a little bit, or are you preparing for a complete overhaul, or a move to a smaller home?

Where to start with decluttering

When you find yourself looking at a clutter-filled home, or just trying to decide where to start with some minor decluttering, it can be overwhelming.  I was reading a short article the other day and the author mentioned that she starts her decluttering with easy things, things with little emotional attachment and things that aren’t buried too deeply in the clutter.

Some of the easy things I came up with for me are:

  1. Actual trash.  Do a quick trip around the house and empty all the wastebaskets and garbage cans.  There.  You did it. That’s a start.
  2. Expired items.  Medications, food, make-up.
  3. Extras/duplicates.  Extra coffee cups, unused handbags, pens, kitchen gadgets.
  4. Stuff you’ll never use.  Random spices, uncomfortable shoes, clothes that don’t fit, empty picture frames, containers without lids, lids without containers, junk drawer contents.
  5. Abandoned hobby supplies.  If you realized that you don’t like to crochet, there’s no need to keep everything related to an abandoned activity.
  6. Past phase of life.  If you’re keeping things because they represent an important past phase of your life, can you choose one or two items as a keepsake and donate/recycle the rest?
  7. Bad memories.  If you have things that trigger bad memories, let them go and make space for new memories and for a new life narrative.

I found while compiling this list, that there are two things that are going to be challenging for me and will require some serious thought.

The first is things related to the stage of life when I was authoring books, writing articles, and public speaking.  That stage is important to me, but no long representative of my life.  I plan on keeping at least one copy of each of my books and there’s a poster from a book signing at Barnes and Noble that’s meaningful to me.  Other than those items, is there really anything else I need to save?  How much of it is just clutter now?  It sometimes takes some serious thinking to discern what stays and what goes, what’s meaningful and what’s junk.

The other area that’s a struggle for me is all the books and notes and notebooks and other materials from when I went back to school to complete my degree and to earn a Master of Fine Arts in Poetics.  All of those resources represent many hours and literally years of work (not to mention a lot of money spent).  But do I hang on to them because they’re all meaningful to me, or is there a wise way to work my way through all of the stuff on my school shelf and part with some of it?

I’m definitely a work-in-progress when it comes to decluttering.  Do any of these “easy” decluttering idea seem difficult or overwhelming to you?

Just-in-case storage

While sorting through some boxes in a storage space, I found a tub full of over-the-counter medications.  Allergy capsules, cold and flu medications, throat lozenges, pain meds, itch cream.  All of them were long since expired.  I’m sure I thought it was a good idea to stay stocked up on these items “just-in-case,” but when they ended up in an unseen storage spot and forgotten all about, they became nothing but a waste.

While it’s important to keep a supply of basic first aid items on hand, it’s not necessary to keep several years’ worth of medications.  I recently read an article on decluttering and the author said not to keep items that can be easily replaced for less than $20 in less than twenty minutes.  I don’t know how I feel about that.  For example, if I’m sick and need a cold and flu medication, I don’t want to have to run out to the store while I’m feeling ill.  So maybe having one bottle in the medicine cabinet wouldn’t be clutter. It’d just be practical and prepared.

But I realize that I actually do have a lot of “just-in-case” storage.  Not just meds, but also clothing, books, kitchenware.  When I’ve watched shows like Hoarders, it seems the people often begin with a keeping things “just-in-case” mindset, but then it gets out of control for them.   Stumbling across my hoard of just-in-case medicines today gives me a lot of food for thought.

Why do I keep the things I choose to keep?  Is it sometimes fear of the future?  Needing a sense of security?

Do you have items you keep around “just-in-case?”