Saturday, September 25, 2004

Confessions of a Pack Rat

As you can tell from the lack of writing these days, I have been up to my ears in a major, time consuming, project. Rainy cold weather is just around the corner, but for now, the sun has been shining every day and the weather warm and mild, so bike riding has been number one on the agenda and the major project number two. Alas, reading and writing have been neglected. I simply must take a writing break this morning though and put something down on “paper” while I relax with my morning coffee and plan my day. “A day without writing is like a day without sunshine.” Isn’t that how the old saying goes?

First thing on the agenda today is writing, second is cleaning the patio furniture and putting it away for the season and the third is to head out on the bike trails. MMMM, sounds good to me.

In my last Blog I wrote about contemplating our next move, and the emotional upset it would be. This week I have been faced with another major consequence of eventually moving to a smaller place. Downsizing!! The very thought of it sends chills up and down my spine. Why? You may ask. Because, I am a pack rat!!! Yes, I confess – a pack rat.

I come by it honestly though. My father was the king of pack rats. The absolute, all time King! He couldn’t throw anything away, and he even collected stuff that other people had thrown out in case he might need it some day. Oh the stuff he had in that house. Yikes!

Anyway, back to the present. We have lived in this house for over 20 years, and I am up to my ears in stuff. When my mom died, I moved some of her “stuff” in with my stuff and when John’s mom died we cleaned out her house and – yes – you are right. We now have her “stuff” here too. Groan!

It is so hard to get rid of something someone else has considered a treasure, so I just added it to my treasures and packed it all away. I also have stuff that I am storing for Ladybug who is still in school and stuff I need to give to Butterfly. So, the time has come to unpack all the stuff I have stored in every nook and cranny of this house, look at it and deal with it. Oh dear. What a job.

I am bound and determined to de-clutter my life though, so each day after our bike ride we have been down in the basement or up in the den, sorting through boxes and de-cluttering. So far this week, three or four huge loads have gone to the Goodwill and another one will soon follow. We put out our paper recycling garbage yesterday and the boxes totally lined the curb in front of our house. AC and I went through an old file cabinet and found teaching notes from 30 years ago. Sheesh! We marvelled at how times had changed since he first started teaching. He used to spend hours typing out lesson plans and class handouts, on an old manual typewriter, using ditto paper. The old typewriter would punch out the centre of each “o” on the ditto paper and I would find them all over the place. What a mess. Now everything is done on a computer and Xerox machine. What a difference.

OK, back to the present again. Even though we have cleaned all this stuff out, it doesn’t look like we have gotten rid of anything. I am not kidding. What is going on here? I got an email from my sister this week that helped explain this to me. Let me include part of her note here...

Greetings dear de-clutterer:
I have been on the de-cluttering path for about a year now, so I know what you are going through. The scary thing is that box upon box has gone out yet I'm not seeing empty spaces. I swear stuff breeds more stuff and if you give it any room it just expands to fill the space.

I remember when I worked in Ethiopia, Peter, the nurse I worked with, said that he may be late coming back from lunch because he was moving. I spent the siesta worrying about how I would manage at the clinic by myself. I wasn't ready to solo on treating a tropical illness or removing a spear (the barbs were very tricky as I recall). It turns out my worry was for naught. Peter was back right on time, from noon to 2:00 PM he had moved his wife, four children, 2 goats and all their belongings on foot (and head), he had also squeezed in a tasty lunch and a wee nap to boot. We definitely are drowning in useless stuff here aren't we?……

We are for sure drowning in stuff and I am coming to the conclusion that we don’t own it, but it owns us. Once we have something, we have to dust it, or oil it, or paint it, or clean it, or polish it, or brush it, or feed it, or pack it away or - something. It takes our time and attention in some way and therefore our energy. Do I really want to waste my precious time and energy on all this stuff? No!!! No, I really don’t! I am going to de-clutter and simplify. I am.

I can remember going to my parents' cottage when my girls were young and spending a large part of the summer there. We had no running water and the cottage was just a rough cabin really. We would go into town for our drinking water, and all the other water was taken out of the creek. We washed our hair in a bucket outside using cold creek water and had a wash in a little basin in the kitchen each night. We had no indoor plumbing, so the spider infested outhouse was visited both in early morning rain and late night clouds of bugs. Ohhhh, creepy! We even had mice and other wild things think that they lived in the cabin and we were the intruders! The nerve.

We absolutely loved it there though. I would come home at the end of the summer and feel strange in my house with running water and indoor plumbing. I would long to go back to the cabin in the woods and be free. In time though, I would settle back into a routine and get used to all my kitchen gadgets and appliances and be convinced that I couldn’t live without them and eventually, I actually thought I needed more. How do we let this happen to us?

There is a place of balance somewhere between the cabin in the woods with no water and the place full of clutter that I now have, and I am going to find it. Wish me luck.


Butterfly said...

You are your father's daughter.

JV said...

You are a blogging family, aren't you? It's interesting to read Raindrops and this blog to see two accounts of the same events. There's probably a study in the differences between men and women in here somewhere.

I know what you mean about our stuff owning us. I've moved so many times that I've pared down to just the stuff that I'm willing to move when necessary. A lot of it is boxes of books. And book cases. My ex-roommate is even better at ensuring that he doesn't accumulate possessions. Some days I just feel like walking away from everything I own and going around with just the shirt on my back. It sounds so liberating.

Good luck with the sorting and cleaning.