February 28. 2015
When we moved into our current apartment, the place we call our house, I decided to splurge a bit and install six professionally designed closets. Our closets were all really large, but they were built in 1941 when I suppose people just hung clothes in them. We, on the other hand, put luggage and bags and shoes and boots and hiking gear and costumes, …
Well, you get the picture.
I emptied the shelves and started to toss and organize all the files of paper and sheet music I had stashed in my closet. I have a set of shelves that line the right hand side of my closet and I guess when I moved, I ran out of logical places to put things and I put them in the next best place – a completely illogical one, my clothes closet. And while I don’t just hang clothes in there, it would be nice to have the space to do that.
I tosses old Xeroxes, sorted all of my Christmas music – well, I think it’s all of my Christmas music – and I realized one really cool thing. When you stop yourself from having nice things because you already have things, it’s occasionally pleasant to realize once you’ve unloaded the old, tacky stuff, that you can now purchase replacement things that are nice. Long way around saying just this: I gave away, finally, all the ratty sheets I have been using, I gave away all the old pillows I was using, and even some I wasn’t using – so now, I feel terrific because I could go to Target and pick up new sheets.
The old sheets were functional, blah, and well, old. But now that they are gone, I can have nice sheets. So the decluttering isn’t only about having less but about having what you want. And that’s splendid.
February 27. 2015
I’ve found I am acquiring new habits based on a serious desire not to acquire clutter. I throw out paper on my desk now if I cannot see a need to keep it. And if I see a need to keep it, I keep it OFF my desk. This is good.
In my house, I find myself looking around to see where I’ve missed something and I swear, by the time I am done, this place is going to look like a house staged for a quick sale! I’ve been thinking about that recently and just today got a half-serious offer to buy my apartment. The very idea of moving again is much less daunting with much less stuff.
Today’s bag – bags. I’ve hauled out all the souvenir shopping bags and given a half dozen of them the old heave ho, along with two backpacks because I don’t need five backpacks, I only need three. Oh I know, who needs three backpacks? If you travel as much as I do, in the fashion in which I like to travel, you do need more than one. I have my long distance, ultra-lightweight one, the day tripping one, and a nice blue Ralph Lauren one I have posted to sell on Tradesy. If it doesn’t sell by Easter, it goes into the bin in the laundry room.
And two sleeping bags – because I really do need one but somebody might need the other two.
So far, I have unloaded books, gear, clothes, sheets and towels, and bags. And I have gained breathing room and space. Today, I salute the death of Leonard Nimoy – space really is the final frontier.
February 26. 2015
I cleared more stuff out of the paper stash on my desk today. I found a drawer filled with random product samples that needs organization so that’s where I am going next. It makes no sense to keep a file drawer filled with random, when specific and particular works better. If I need something, I will be able to find it – once I’m finished.
But now, I wonder if I’m starting to protect my stuff. Am I resisting clearing out my music library at home because, what?
I could say it’s such a really big job to pull apart all that paper and toss what I will never use again that I need to wait for an open all-day sometime. Or I could say that I am waiting to figure out where I can donate all that music. But I am worried it’s more that I will be closing a chapter of my book that has been left casually open all these years.
I acquired reams of sheet music and scores over the two decades of my life that I spent as an opera and oratorio singer. I collected music everywhere I went. Schirmer scores at Patelson’s in New York and the Princeton University Bookstore, Ricordi scores in Florence and Milan, and on and on. I have rare copies of Respighi and Zandonai songs, and beautiful autographed scores I will never part with, including a copy of the opera Werther, signed by Alfredo Kraus.
And then there’s all those Xeroxes. Singers back in the day would copy everything twice- it was never practical to cart scores around, so I made two copies of all of my audition pieces. One for me, one for my pianist. And now? I hardly even need the score.
So, starting on Saturday – when I may not have all day, but will certainly have more daylight than I have after I come home from work – I will begin to dismantle my library. I look forward to catching up with my dear old friends.
February 25. 2015
It’s been a week now, so I want to take a moment to acknowledge my inspiration:
Today I bought boxes to cart out my books and the stuff from my linen chest. And I found a way to declutter some of my bathroom things too.
When I travel, I love to collect the little hotel bottles of shampoo, lotion, and conditioner. But they tend to languish at the bottom of this plastic box and I am less likely, over time, to ever use them. On the one hand, I hesitate to leave them in the hotel bathroom, but on the other, I tend not to use them.
I have a solution that I implemented today. Since I see lots of homeless and very poor people asking for handouts on the train, I want to do something – other than give out money, because I really can’t afford that. So I have started putting some of these little hotel lotions and shampoo and a granola bar in a Ziploc. That way, I feel like I can offer someone something without having it be money. I would imagine if I were in their situation and I had a dollar, I’d buy food. I would never buy shampoo.
Today, a woman on my train said she was homeless, and if anyone could give her a little something, she would be grateful – so I gave her one of my baggies. She stopped and looked right at me and said, “Oh my God, thank you so much.” And I knew I did something good.
February 24. 2015
My mother kept things in a beautiful linen chest. It has a shelf that held papers and the bottom of it could hold sheets and towels that were clean but not in use. I adopted that habit years ago when a friend owned a furniture store and got me a discount on a maple Lane chest – just like my mother’s.
One of the curses of having lots of storage space though is the accompanying problem that you rarely need to clean it out. I had towels and sheets in there I haven’t used since I moved nearly five years ago.
Net net? Two more bags – of sheets and towels I haven’t touched in nearly five years.
February 23. 2015
The apartment owned by the Collyer brothers,
How do you know you are officially a hoarder? When you find you’ve got two copies of the E.L. Doctorow biography of the most famous hoarders of all time: the Collyer brothers.
I’ve pulled out yet another bag – at least – of books that will go to the library with their little buddies. And I dusted the two bookcases that are now housing my remainders. It’s been really interesting looking at the books that have time traveled with me through no conscious thought of my own. They simply kept finding their way into the boxes that packed up and came along every time I moved. In some cases, like with my high school books, they started in Michigan, went to Illinois, then Michigan again, then New York’s Upper West Side, on to Washington Heights, and finally to the Bronx where I am afraid we must part ways. I can’t imagine thinking twice about this and I wonder how it took so long.
I am also proud to say I stepped up to volunteer to help out someone who has asked for help. I told my friend just last week that nobody asks for help unless they need it. So, I am donating a week of my time in May to help and I feel really good about this.
And PS? That hoarder book wasn’t the only one I found multiple copies of – there’s more and I know now it’s because I never put like objects together. I bought second copies of books I wanted to read because I had such a random organization to my library, I didn’t even know I already had it. And probably hadn’t read it.
One bag of clothes to the laundry room clothing donation bin and more books into the bags for the library!
And I taught a free class in Family History Writing at Q.E.D. Astoria – such a rewarding exercise. We talked about our families and the kind of events that shape us, that define us – and we talked about how best to tell these stories. Next two weeks, same deal. More classes.
So what have I gained since I started tossing and sorting and organizing in an attempt to declutter my life? I finally felt it this afternoon – breathing room. I’ve gained breathing room. I feel lighter. For the first time in a very long time, when I finished doing the laundry, I had enough space in my drawers to put all my clothes away. It’s the same kind of feeling I get when I lose body weight – like losing even a few pounds.
This is fun. I can’t remember the last time a Lent activity was fun.
February 21. 2015
I’ve started looking at everything with fresh eyes. What can I let go of, what can I give away? My closet, my bookcases, my drawers are all open to this challenge now to the point where I was just in the bathroom wondering if I needed a soap dish for my soap or could I get by without it?
Today, I got a notification from an online sales site that a bag I had posted about a month ago had sold. Only problem is that I had taken it off sale and donated it to the laundry room clothes bin. What to do, what to do? I wrote to the buyer to let him know I no longer had that bag and would he like my other backpack, the one that was still up for sale? I wait to hear.
But, while I was checking my closet to see if I still had the bag – before I remembered giving it away – I saw two sleeping bags and hauled them out. I have my sleeping bag, lightweight and really toasty with a couple of wonderful features, so I don’t really need two more. Gone!
Along with two more bags of books.
February 20. 2015
Two more bags of books and three new flash drives about sums it up for today.
I stopped at Best Buy last night on the way home and scouted new laptops. It’s a real brave new world out there and it’s getting to be a real challenge to weigh the stuff you like, like Windows XP, against those neat touch screens and cool swivel keyboards. I got a little overwhelmed and decided to let my son take on this particular challenge. I want a smaller machine to go along with all the other downsizing I’m doing here. And I am looking forward to establishing a new filing system.
But I did pick up three dinky flash drives because one of the best parts of the 40 Bag Challenge is to clear out your computer clutter too – and I am so ready to do that. I copied all the files that sit in my Dropbox accounts onto one dinky drive and then sorted everything into two general categories: writing and photos. The goal will be to not duplicate the files and scatter them around the way they were in the Dropbox. I want to set up my files so the photos are sorted by location and date – instead of “NYC.” I’ll probably end up with 30% of the files I have now. And if I keep my writing sorted, instead of all over the place, putting together my next book will be a breeze!
The bye-bye book bags are stacking up. Because we don’t have a car and will have to get a car service to cart them to the library, I only want to make one trip. But, I’m running out of big bags already. I’ve been pulling them out of my souvenir canvas bag collection – they are all going too.
Tomorrow, I’m going to clear out the files on my laptop. After all, if I get a new machine, I’ll have to back all my stuff up anyway, right?
Thursday, February 19. 2015
And sometimes you find things.
I was packing up some books to give away, going through piles of paperbacks, hordes of hardcovers, and children’s books my twenty-something children no longer read. I sorted, I organized, I pulled out a couple of things that cried out to me for mercy, to not be dropped into The Bag. And I found a copy of a book inscribed in a particularly lovely way to my daughter. The illustrator of the book had sketched next to his signature and it was wonderful. I saved it for her.
Today at work, I decided to take my 40 Bags there as well. I had a pile of cards and papers on a metal desk organizer that was reaching critical mass. I started pulling things out I hadn’t seen or used in months and brought over the big green plastic recycling bin. I tossed 2/3 of the pile into the bin and found space to store some things off the surface of my desk, I also found some nice note pads I could stash near the phone. All good.
But I was sitting there, feeling good about clearing away the clutter in front of me when my boss looked at me and said, “What’s that?”
I was holding an envelope full of samples that everyone had been looking for while I was cleaning!
Sometimes you get rid, sometimes you get lucky!