Organization

packing light: part I.

My sweet cousin Nicole shared a book she loved with me recently as I was working on making the move out to California called Packing Light: Thoughts On Living Life With Less Baggage. It came to me at the perfect time, and I eagerly dug into the soulful thoughts the author Allison Vesterfelt shares with her readers. Truthfully, I carried this book around with me a bit like the tattered Velveteen Rabbit as I traversed the country that year, reading it on the plane and as my eyes grew heavy at night, folding over many of its pages, underlining and scribbling notes with vigorous head noddings and a-has. Her words were a source of comfort and strength as I figured out what the biggest transition of my life to date was going to look like, sans road map. If other people could do big scary things, I could too! I highly recommend it as a companion for anyone experiencing any kind of growth or life transformation.

Our brains are funny in times of transition. The closer we get to taking a leap or making a big change, the more fear creeps in and makes us want to cling to the walls, screaming with a megaphone in our ear all the reasons why we can’t do it. Fears also come up for the people who love us as change is in the air, and the overwhelm can get, well, overwhelming.

My ex-boyfriend Mike coined a phrase
Exhilafrightciting to explain the times in life such as these, and I find myself using it a lot lately. Exhilarating, frightening, exciting. It describes many of life’s moments: new love, new changes, new adventures, new anything.

Vesterfelt writes: “We get so focused on what we think is going to happen, so worried about it, we don’t even consider something better might be coming, something we couldn’t have possibly dreamed up ourselves.” That is one of the key lessons for me of this book- lightening our loads, emotionally and physically, leaves us more free to pursue what is truly important and open to receiving infinite possibilities that might come our way.

I’ve been working on ‘packing light’ for a long time. As my Dad likes to joke when he asks me what I’m doing, I usually answer “getting organized.” I spend a lot of my time getting ready to do something. This is somewhat due to my procrastinating, recovering-perfectionist nature to be sure. But also because, I’m Busy. Hopefully less of the culturally glorified Busy that is starting to be frowned upon instead of being worn as a badge of honor (which I am certainly guilty of), and more of the truly just-have-mucho-stuff going on. I like it, obviously, because I’ve lived this way as long as I can remember. If you asked my people to describe the definition of busy they would say that my photo is next to it in the dictionary. My Mom frequently says supportively: “We all know Val needs more hours in the day.”

In peak childhood days circa age six to ten I was churning out colorful loom potholders, coloring intricate designs on graphic outlines, and watching my favorite TV shows of the 80’s simultaneously, usually Saturday morning cartoons or sitcoms such as the Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, Little House on the Prairie, and later the Love Boat and Three’s Company, the latter much to my mother’s chagrin. Come and knock on our door… I digress!

My varied ADHD-esque interests and curious nature left me with with lots of eclectic items in my possession. It began with collections: book series, special soaps in the shape of things like animals and golf balls, pencils with unique eraser toppers, paper napkins, stamps, baseball cards, paper and office supplies.

I can still smell the soaps and remember the feel of them and the oils on my hands. They were all beautiful and unique. A swan, a flower, a heart. I have moved several times over the years around the country, but due to my illness was unable to effectively purge things during most of those and my physical and emotional load grew increasingly heavier.

When I left Austin, Texas for North Carolina to seek answers for my health concerns, I took a babystep and let go of some of these special childhood treasures. I snapped a photo of my soap collection and said goodbye. It was not easy to part with. I came across the photo technique in one of the million of organizing books I had amassed and it felt like a decent solution.

As an archiver of life, letting go of special items with sentimental value feels damn near impossible. The professional organizer I hired many years later said that these types of possessions were the toughest to part with for most people, and her recommendation was to start with evaluating (and getting rid of) the easy stuff first. Some early quick “wins” give us a boost of confidence to keep moving forward.

I think about the irony that our possessions can so easily possess us. The stuff keeping us stuck. I used to love binge watching a show called Clean House, where the crew would intervene on a household struggling with too much stuff. The deeper reasons behind these situations was usually some kind of familial or career loss, illness, or other personal struggle.

I felt a lot of empathy for the participants, drawing strong parallels with my own story. It was powerful to see the end result (albeit at an orchestrated-for-TV mach speed pace), where the participants have lightened their loads considerably, faced some deep emotional demons head on, and are left with a peaceful home environment and a fresh start.

Vesterfelt’s book captures some of the heart of this process for me. “If we want to be truly alive, truly awake to the reality of the world around us, packing light will be a continued, daily struggle.”

As we embark on exhilafrightciting new adventures, I keep in mind what my doctor says: it's not “leap and the net will appear,” it’s leap and build the net on the way down. That’s what I take Packing Light’s message to be- when we follow what’s calling us on our journey, we are provided with the support we need in one way or another, even if it takes an unexpected or perhaps initially undesirable form. We are open to new opportunities. This echos Paulo Coelho’s concept behind
The Alchemist- all the universe conspiring to help us achieve our dreams once we follow our path or personal legend. Fodder for another post! 

I want to know - how are you practicing packing light in your lives?

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i had so much i didn't know what i had.

The culling process continues, in earnest. I sold furniture and got rid of some big pieces last year and also had a yard sale, and amazingly enough I still have a house full of stuff somehow! Gasp So it continues on. I've been in the music mix making process for someone and got out some tunes, and am discovering stuff I've never listened to and didn't know I had. I honestly think this applies to a lot of what I "have," or what has had me.

Simplifying life/reducing one's possessions allows the things you really love to be front, center and enjoyed. I'm starting to see that now. I have had this thing where I SAVE things for later... absorb compliments later, read things later, look at things later, use things later ... and later might as well be never. :/

I had so much I didn't know what I had. So here's to discovering things for the first time right here in my possession. I have all I need. And to moving all I can along so that I can be even more present for my life and the important things in it, like people and experiences.

Letting go of "stuff" allowed the world to collapse behind me as I moved, so I became nothing more or less than who I simply was: Me. ~ Dee Williams

When you don’t get rid of things you aren't using, you are blinding yourself to a critical part of the consumer experience: what happens to things when you’re done with them. When you have the habit of periodically getting rid of things you aren't using anymore, your brain begins to create links between the beginning (buying) and the end (selling) of all of your stuff.” ~ Tynan, Superhuman by Habit: A Guide to Becoming the Best Possible Version of Yourself, One Tiny Habit at a Time


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Cathy cartoon.

My Mom and I used to love the cartoon Cathy, and she sent me this one from a daily calendar she had, probably at least 15 years ago given the text... man do these always resonate with me! But literally, this one is Me- I still do this when I travel, even if its an hour road trip, bringing a backpack full of projects that I do not touch! The organizing struggle is real. Happy

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inbetween days.

After being sick this entire holiday break and quarantined in my pajamas, with one happy exception on Christmas Eve, (my work is closed for the holiday season until after the New Year), I'm back to the grind of purging and sorting.

It is draining, emotional, lonely, wandering through the hallways of the past. It is necessary work. It is also incredibly poignant, fun, and daunting. Feeling the feelings as they come and allowing them to pass through me. The deeper I get, the closer I get to me. This is the cool part. As strange and
in-between a process as this is (I could use a good dose of The Cure right now, the anthem band of nostalgia), I know I am marching towards my most authentic and true self and destiny, and that feels exhilafrightciting, to use a phrase created by someone I used to know. Swimming in the depths of nostalgia, scraps of thought, kind words from loved ones, glimmers of who I want to be, things I want to explore, and old shit, it is like walking the pages of a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

I took a mental break this evening and saw
Dallas Buyers Club, and something Ron Woodroof's character said rang very true for me: "Sometimes it feels like I'm fighting for a life I ain't got time to live." I feel like I am playing catch up so much of the time that I don't get a chance to stop for a minute, catch my breath, and just be in the present. I try to reassure myself with the thought from my doctor that I have indeed been living, all these years, just like everyone else, just doing different things, and learning in different ways. I may not have been out "playing pinball" as he put it, but I was living and learning just the same. That comforts me.

I've connected on a deep level to the HIV and AIDS movement since the early nineties, when I was very ill and could relate to so many of the struggles faced by those afflicted. It's worthy of a separate post sometime, but this raw passion for health, born out of experience and hardcore empathy, is an important chorus that rattles around the chambers of my heart, and physical space, present in books, articles, notes, people, and knowledge. It was a nice reminder to supplement the deep dive explorations I'm doing in my surroundings. A few finds from today:

Consent for treatment, 2002.
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Dreams.
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My very first Apple product, my PowerBook G4, circa 2005, is being laid to rest.
Bon voyage, silver bullet.
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My cute Momma helping me sort
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I've carried this thing around from state to state over the years. Must be I liked what it said...
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"getting organized."

I remember talking to my Dad on the phone when I was away at college, and whenever he asked me what I was doing, the answer was usually "organizing" or getting organized" - you can ask him. Happy I'm still at it! After examining my values through a tool we have where I work called Values Explorer, I know that 2 things I always value are knowledge and wisdom, so that seems to be part of it- I've been hoarding bits of knowledge for decades now, organizing it, and then eventually planning to share it I suppose with the world, and at the least use it to make me a more effective, directed individual.

I think it also explains why I have a hard time getting rid of these kinds of things, such as books, newspapers, informational articles, resources, etc. because I value them so. I know some people who couldn't be more opposite in this regard, and they value other things more. For me, there is always something to do, something to learn, something to discover. I could remain in this house for the rest of my days and I wouldn't be able to read all that is currently in my possession. That's something, seeing as I'm still in my 30's... Laugh

I'm learning the balance now of amassing and digesting knowledge, and then releasing it, to move on to the next thing. So much is constantly changing and improving anyway that it is hard for any of these things to remain static. There are some classics that just are, of course, or sentimental. But other knowledge is time and date sensitive, and there's always new material being generated. For someone who values this stuff so highly, this can create quite a tension and stress, trying to keep up with it all and not wanting to lose the history of the old. I definitely resemble many professors I know in this respect. Knowledge is power. Wisdom is a goal. But if you have so much of it that it becomes difficult to meander lightly through life, its time to lighten the load.

A friend was talking last night about how the internet available at any moment to us has changed our learning and existence, in that kids don't feel they have to learn as much any more, because they can just look it up. That was an odd concept to consider. It's both freeing and frightening. The thought of our brains atrophying because we no longer seek to learn, just look up. Perhaps different skills are being harnessed in this technological era (I hope). A mantra that comes to mind often for me when considering this work is from a Be Good Tanyas song:
Keep it Light Enough to Travel. Ultimately, I'd rather absorb and process what I can and store it in my mind, and release the rest so that things can flow on, but I know this struggle will always be one I wrestle with. For now, I'm working to trust as much as I'm able to technological archiving and sharing sites such as Pinterest, and then my electronic filing, which basically is a black hole that I am 99% sure I will never look at again. Old school paper sometimes is more in your face, tangible, and accessible, especially after spending most of the day on a computer - I just am not very inspired to do it at home as well.

I'm down to 2 (admittedly very large) bookcases, 4 filing cabinets, 2 closets,
1 dresser/console, and 1 trunk of books/paper Happy
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val's in da house

So, it's back to the house. Teresa, my friend of almost 10 years (gulp- cannot believe it has been this long!!), and her beautiful daughter Skyler, have resurfaced in my life at an opportune time. They are thoughtful, funny, caring, hardworking and dedicated to a fault. Where I flounder and freak out in overwhelm, Teresa lays down the law and "gets it done." She is hardcore and actually accomplishes things and moves forward in life- what a concept! Laugh

For those of us that are Ns (iNtuiton in the Myers Briggs type indicator), we envy these results-oriented Sensing types. They DO things and are known as the masters of action and implementation, out there living life, whereas iNtuitives are more abstract in their worlds of ideas and reflection, and we may take F-O-R-E-V-E-R to actually do anything concrete... and may not realize it because being in our heads, making connections and philosophizing feels like doing something to us! Being pushed into motion feels exhilarating to people like me and I highly value the support of my friends, and the other fellow Ss in my life (my Mom and Grandma), even though we spar over this key functional difference sometimes of course.

Thanks to Teresa and Skyler, I am in motion again after a longer than I would have liked hiatus. We tackled ONE drawer, and then cleaned up and restored the place to previous order. Definitely not the way I would have worked if I was running the show, so I was very grateful for some guidance to keep me in check! It's great to have a team - Skyler very quickly shred a ton of old bills and statements, put things to keep in clear plastic sleeves, and filed folders. Teresa challenged me on items that I might have contemplated keeping, (mostly things years old that I haven't read, probably never will, and that are only making me feel guilty- what's the point of continuing to lug that shit around?) with "It's 2014 Valerie!"

Huh. You know, clearly, as strange as it sounds, I do not yet have a grasp of year or decade. It's that Rip Van Winkle syndrome thing I have from feeling like I've missed years of time due to survivor mode illness- I just feel like it's earlier than it is. This process makes me feel good because it gets me one step closer to the present, which is the real gift. Punny but true! We also made lists so I can cross off the drawers/boxes/bins/cubbies as I clear them, and celebrate my progress catching up! Incredibly, in doing just one drawer we uncovered some important and very relevant writings and other finds that will help support me on my next steps.

Goodbye 1997 John Cusack! It's been a great 17 years...
(I can't believe I got this when I was 19!! Now that feels like a long time ago...)
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Waking Life (Richard Linklater) movie rental, 2004.

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Super efficient filer and shredder Skyler at work
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1 drawer cleared= 1 bag of shredding and 5+ pounds recycling!
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the gift of the present.

I feel alive. Present. For the first time in quite a while. I have a migraine, and vision in my left eye is blurry. But this is mostly a big nuisance- I still feel this clear feeling. It's a lovely summer evening, 8:25pm, and I've got the front door open, shades up on the window, and have reached out to neighbors I've lived next to for years and haven't officially met. I'm putting myself out there, and am more available than I've been. It is an energy shift. A happy one!

Maybe it's because I'm on the cusp of finally digging into the thing that my life has been waiting for me to do. It's finally time, and I have arrived at the place where I'm ready to move forward, instead of just wondering and thinking about it.

One thought is that there are NO MORE DISTRACTIONS. It's interesting how some of us have to push ourselves to the brinks to launch the change we have been desiring for long periods of time. I have no financial distractions, because I have no money to spend. It's peaceful in a way it hasn't been previously. I know that it is leading to the next step for me. I have no relationship distractions. As I've mentioned in a recent post, my life has been eerily quiet (my cousin, recently visiting from Spain, called Greensboro "Spooksville" Happy!

This is the first time in I don't know how long that I am home at a reasonable hour, no where to rush off to, taking the time making a semi-proper evening meal for myself. I found a bottled spiced apple cider in the fridge, and am making a club sandwich. Seems crazy I'm sure that these things would be remarkable, but most of the time I don't slow down long enough to breathe. I'm appreciating the little things that could be taken for granted, and it's a really nice feeling. The absence of some things makes other things more apparent.

My club sandwich
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Tonight's view from my back steps
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back in the saddle again

Since I got this fantastic IKEA Norden birch table (with hidden leaf):

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I’ve camped out in my living room and have used it every day for projects, bill paying, computing, and life. The downside to this is that my office has been feeling a bit neglected! So, now that the newness of it has worn off a little, I’ve officially moved back into my office, and I’m rearing to go!

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the bookcase.

Four words: the bookcase didn’t fit! After 12 hours of IKEA-ing and building, must formulate plan B tomorrow. Happy UPDATE: We had to get a 2nd smaller bookcase, as this one, pictured below, would not fit down the hallway (it was intended for my office). So another trip to IKEA later, and more building (thank you infinity John, who’s idea it was to get the bookcase(s) in the first place...) we finally have success. And now plenty of extra room!

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This behemoth stands in the living room - mirrored doors, so fancy!

This is the new smaller bookcase for my office- in love with the smooth sliding drawers and doors for the cubbies!
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the transformation.

Ok, so I’ve told you a tiny bit about me and now I will share what I am up to. While this rainbow world is born out of wanting to document my struggles and triumphs over a twenty-plus year battle with Crohn’s disease, most of my time and thoughts are spent thinking about and doing other things, and I find it all sort of inexorably bound up together, such that I don’t know how I could have a single focus.

Rather, I see it more as a kind of lens which informs the rest of life I am involved in, and thus will share those other aspects here too-- and as the Brits say, you can like it or lump it, or as MJB
sayz, you can hate it or love it... what what!

The latest is trying to get my home organized. Oh boy.

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