To Declutter or Not to Declutter

If you haven’t heard about Marie Kondo you can’t possibly have been paying attention. The Japanese guru of organization is turning up everywhere. Her motto of ‘Tidy your space; transform your life’ by following six basic rules of tidying, is pushing even the most skeptical of us into evaluating our clutter.

(Ideally the fan and television should disappear, but there’s a closet nearby that’s in much greater need of attention.)

We’re told to sort through our belongings (in a specific order, I must add), scrutinize each item, decide if it brings us joy and, if it doesn’t, thank it for its service before tossing it.

Does that make you nod your head in enlightened agreement, hurl ridicule, or laugh uneasily?

The loudest response I’ve heard is from the reading and writing community. Latching onto Kondo’s suggestion that she keeps her collection of books pared down to thirty, sparked disbelief and rebellion at the idea of parting with any of our precious volumes.

“You can never have too many books” says a mime that circulates on social media. And Melissa Breyer, in an article for Treehugger entitled In case of rapturous decluttering, don’t throw away your books, says, “Should you get bitten by the Kondo bug, go gently with your book collection.”

“…a book collection in its entirety, nurtured over a lifetime of reading, can in itself be considered a thing of joy … and once it’s gone, it can not be replaced. Go ahead and alphabetize by author, dust the covers, and straighten the spines – but if you keep just one thing in your decluttering frenzy, consider keeping the books.”

Even Tsundoku – the practice of buying more books than we can read, thus creating our infamous TBR piles – has a positive spinoff in Breyer’s article. “That a book is unread should not be an indication of its uselessness, rather, a promise of its potential. It’s like having a gift to open or a vacation to look forward to.” Believe me, I have a lot of gifts waiting to be opened!

(This is just one of our bookcases — the one reserved for my writing craft books and my TBR ones.)

The phenomenon of de-cluttering isn’t new. I don’t think anyone admits to liking clutter. Certainly, I don’t. Author Sherri Shackelford said in a Facebook post yesterday, “I understand organizing isn’t for everyone. Some people work better in chaos.” I don’t. I get stalled amid clutter because it spills over into my mind and my creativity grinds to a halt.

For me, the challenge was to identify what constituted clutter and then figure out how to deal with it. Marie Kondo says it’s necessary to first visualize your ideal lifestyle. That’s always been a problem, too. What’s ideal and what’s realistic and how can the two be made compatible, especially in a household with four children, several dogs, and no budget for decorating?

To start with, I didn’t know one style from another. I knew I wanted our home to be a sanctuary, a place of serenity in which to retreat when the pressures of trying to survive as an introvert in an extrovert’s world got to be a bit much. Minimalism was the only thing I thought could achieve that goal, and the starkness of its décor didn’t appeal to me. I like my creature comforts.

It took me almost fifty years of marriage before I began to understand that regardless of style, what made our homes comfortable for me was being surrounded by things I love, just not too many of them at any one time – essentially what Marie Kondo advocates.

Next to being surrounded by my family and dogs, the things I love involve clear countertops, serene colours of the beach and woodland, specific pieces of art and pottery…and books. Lots of books. I’ve rationalized that doesn’t conflict with Marie’s idea, because all those books bring me joy. So, beyond a bit of reorganizing and dusting, I won’t be tidying my bookshelves. I’ll take my decluttering in other areas.

In fact, our bedroom closet is next in line for some attention. I can think of several items in it that don’t bring me joy at all. It’s hard to love pieces that need repair or no longer fit.

After that? Hmmm, not sure yet…just don’t ask about our basement!

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Preparing to Write

I’m with Aristotle, at least when it comes to creative achievement: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” I don’t do New Year’s resolutions because I’ve learned from years of experience that making them sets me up for failure and discouragement.

So it is with my writing; I’m not likely ever going to change my natural creative rhythms. I’ve learned that working with them is more productive than fighting to overcome them.  Identifying my optimum writing time was an important discovery. I’m definitely not a morning person. Ask anyone who knows me: my brain takes a long time to wake up. So I’ve accepted that mornings are better used for devotions, journalling, and/or social media.

My best time to write is in the evening … the late evening. When the day’s routines are over and the house is quiet, nothing needs me except my manuscript. There are no time constraints so if the words don’t flow quickly, it doesn’t matter. Nobody is around to pressure me. In the blackness beyond the windows, the world sleeps. At least, most of it does.

There are the occasional late night visitors, but, while admittedly they’re a distraction, they don’t create much of a disturbance.

I don’t write as long into the night as I once did — the older I get the more sleep I seem to need — but I can still produce more words in an hour after midnight than I can during a daytime hour.

Location is important, too. I need a quiet place so I can hear the voices in my head. (Did I just admit to hearing voices???) I have a well-equipped office where I can close the door if need be, but the recliner in our family room usually draws me at night. Part of the problem in my office is the clutter. I can’t seem to be creative if my space (or my mind) is full of unrelated messiness, and my office usually is.

Decluttering is probably my single most effective aid to writing. I’d do it more often except one thing leads to another when it comes to my office, and I could spend the entire day in there, trying to organize the piles of paper, books and photos. Setting a time limit on tidying or any other preliminary activity would help, but when I’m in the mood to write it’s far easier to choose a location that doesn’t require preparation. Hence, the family room wins at night.

LL Barkat has a recent post that inspired me to think more about mental decluttering. (Simple tricks to make space for your writing) I think I’ll head back over there and reread it. I could use some extra inspiration today. How about you?

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Happy New Year: 2019

This morning’s snowfall didn’t last all that long, but it seemed appropriate for the start of a new year. There’s something fresh and hopeful about a landscape blanketed in pristine softness. It’s akin to beginning a brand new journal, opening a calendar to the first of twelve untouched months, or stepping onto a beach where the outgoing tide has left the sand shiny and smooth, waiting for fresh footprints.

a beginning
filled with
unspoken promises
of new opportunities

Wishing you the exhilaration of a fresh start.

~

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,
plans for welfare and not for evil,
to give you a future and a hope.”

[Jeremiah 29:11]


“One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind

and straining toward what is ahead,
I press on toward the goal…”
[Philippians 3:13–14)

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Out with the old, in with the new (not years)

Who still has hanging flower baskets blooming in December here in the Pacific Northwest? Even the local nursery has abandoned attempts to keep theirs presentable so I’m not sure why mine are still growing. Admittedly, the blooms are few and small, but geraniums are geraniums, regardless of size, right?

My hubby had taken all the other tubs of anemic annuals off the deck in mid-October after Thanksgiving, and carried the patio furniture down to the basement where it will wait out the winter months. But the baskets still provided a minimal bit of cheerful colour as they dangled outside our family room windows.

At least, they did until this weekend’s frost. Despite the protection of the overhanging eaves, sometime during Friday night they shivered themselves out of attractive into bedraggled. Without its tiny white blossoms the bacopa maybe didn’t look too bad, but everything else…? Meh!

Yesterday we ventured out to a tree farm and cut our Christmas tree, and as my hubby was setting it into its stand this afternoon, he decided it was finally time to remove the waning greenery.

I kind of hate to see the baskets go. They’ve hung there since early May and survived through blustery late spring winds, summer holiday neglect and torrents of fall rain. I feel like I owe them something in exchange for their persistence.

Then again, it IS Advent now and the outside Christmas lights twinkling above them seem a bit incongruous.

So, “out with the old and in with the new”…greenery, that is. The sickly lantana and geranium leaves have gone to compost heaven and from the other side of the window pane I’m now enjoying the fragrance of fresh fir adorned with cheery baubles, not blossoms.

I’m sure I could find a writing analogy in this if I tried hard enough, but at the moment I’d rather just sit here squinting at the tree lights and pondering Advent thoughts. Taken totally out of context I am reminded of an applicable scripture verse:

“…the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 🙂  [2 Corinthians 5:17b]

~

Wishing you abundant Hope on this
first Sunday in Advent.

 

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Conference Reflections

It’s been a week and I still haven’t quite recovered (but it’s all good).

Waaaaaaaay back in 2004 I attended my first writing conference with a dear friend, Earlene Luke. At the time, given how much it cost, I was pretty sure it would be a one-shot thing, but two years later my daughter Shari Green was attending her first and convinced me to register again. Last weekend we counted up the years we’ve attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference since then and were surprised to find it took more than two hands to do the tally — this was my twelfth year and Shari’s eleventh.

Maybe we would have stopped after the first ones if our experience had been merely enjoyable, but it was and continues to be exceptional.

We’re both more-than-a-little introverted, so it takes significant effort to psych ourselves up to step into the crowd of hundreds who attend every year. But once we do, the four-day whirlwind of shared workshops and master classes, keynote speakers, banquets and socializing sweeps us up and carries us on a high that lasts for months afterwards.

With more than fifty presenters (authors, agents, editors, publishers and screenwriters) and the opportunity to choose from over eighty workshops in ten time slots, plus all the extras that fill the evenings, it would be easy to be overwhelmed, and indeed we do come home exhausted and with ‘information overload’.

But it’s more than a whole weekend sharing the ultimate writers’ learning experience with one’s ‘tribe’ that makes it worthwhile. It’s the atmosphere created by so much kindness, helpfulness and mutual respect shown by both seasoned professionals and novice writers. There is no ‘us and them’ at this conference. There is a unique camaraderie that stems from a shared passion for writing.

Besides all that, it’s a fabulous mother-daughter writing weekend retreat. 🙂

I’ve never really been able to afford this indulgence — I’d hate to add up the dollars I’ve spent through the years — but at the same time I’ve discovered I really can’t afford not to go. It’s a professional development opportunity like none other! Kudos to all the SiWC organizers for providing this superb conference year after year.

Now it’s time to take a deep breath, pour myself a coffee (or maybe a glass of wine) and go put this year’s accumulation of knowledge and enthusiasm to work.

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