Saturday, December 11, 2010

Second Thoughts About the Closet

A few more thoughts about this closet idea.

Last week I wrote about getting organized enough to actually accomplish something. The key seems to be “Don’t store things until it’s time to throw them away.”

I collect wrinkled clothes in a hamper, then they’re in the way so I put them in a box, then the box is sitting in the corner of the bedroom for too long so it goes in the closet, and eight years later I unpack it and there’s Ed’s dress shirt.

I collect bills in a pile, then put them in a shoebox, then stuff it in the closet (usually because people are coming over and I want things to look neat), and years later I find the box and throw it away. (I do SO pay bills, it’s just that sometimes I wait for the yellow envelope to come.)

And then there’s the aging-food-in-the-refrigerator-until-it’s-time-to-throw-it-away-system.

So there is a little pattern here. Collect the most important resources in your life – food, clothing, electricity-phone-water-insurance – and put them in the closet until they’re out-of-date and unusable and it’s time to throw them away.

That’s a complicated idea, or maybe it’s just that it’s always hard for me to think about the truth. I like self-delusion as much as the next person, so it’s taken me a long time to start to think about this. Until “halfway through my first century,” is how I believe I put it last week, and you want to talk about self-delusion?

I’m starting to think that this goes deeper than storing food, clothing and shelter until it’s time to throw it out.

When my laryngologist told me that my vocal structure was broken, perhaps permanently, and that I might never sing again, I really did laugh and say to him, “At one point that would have been devastating news, but not at this point in my life. I don’t use my voice anymore anyway.”

I loved teaching fifth grade. I loved conducting choirs. When I lost my job in the public schools, I dove into being a housewife as if picking up other people’s messes and doing their thinking for them was a noble profession and made up for losing the joy of helping people find their true selves and expressing them fully.

After years of writing in hardbound journals and filing them in a bookcase in my attic, I stopped. I couldn’t find the time.

(Maybe it was in a box in the closet?)

No. Not time, exactly, but I have been storing something away in the closet, in a box, until it had aged enough to be thrown away.


My voice. My singing, writing, conducting and teaching. How many times have I said to myself, “I’m getting older now. I need to get ready to retire – although I’m not sure from what. It’s time to become contented with a smaller life.”

Have a small day tomorrow, and a smaller day the next day.

I read yesterday that the ancient Celts and Teutons believed in a great wheel of time, which they called Houl – a wheel that alternately threw its light toward the world and then away from it. For twelve days at winter Solstice, this Houl – now we call it Yule -- stood still before casting light onto the earth again.

Maybe it’s time for me to climb out of the box. As Woody Guthrie sang, “When you find me in the mailbox, cut the string and let me out!”

It’s time to let myself out of the back closet. Time to catch a ride on that Ferris wheel and ride back into the light. Publish the stories, conduct the choir, take this show on the road.

Welcome Yule!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On Getting Oh-Oh-Organized

Sometimes your heart’s desire is hiding in plain sight, especially when your heart’s desire is Time, or The Ability to Think Clearly.

I didn’t know this. I thought it was hiding in The Perfect List. Or the perfect calendar app or tickler file or the perfect PDA. I just needed to slice up my day a little more precisely. Maybe get Bluetooth for driving or…not my favorite but seems to be the default…don’t sleep as much.

But halfway through my first century, I think I have finally figured something out. Sometimes it’s not finding more time. Sometimes it’s going with the flow, or more accurately, going with what really works for you. Don’t argue with yourself. You’ll lose. Find out what you want and then give it to yourself. It’s OK. You’ll be a lot happier and, by extension, so will all the people around you.

When I couldn’t get any writing time, I blamed housework. Then my husband started doing the laundry and vacuuming. OK, that wasn’t it. Then I blamed my inability to schedule in writing time. Fine. Put it on the calendar. OK, months of dithering, Solitaire-playing and e-mailing later, that wasn’t it.

Then I noticed that the only days that I actually wrote, happily, for hours, were days when I didn’t have to get up and feed everybody and make sure they had their lunches and homework and then cleaned up the kitchen. When I just reached over, BEFORE I PUT A TOE OUT OF BED, and picked up first my journal and then my netbook, I wrote for four or five hours before I knew what hit me.

So I don’t get up in the mornings anymore. I just write. And it’s surprising how much more gusto I have for the laundry and errands when I have already given myself my work time. Ed and the kids get themselves ready for school and work.

(What a great sentence! “I don’t get up in the mornings anymore.” Chortle!)

This plays out in all kinds of ways. Take ironing.

I’m not a big ironer. When we unpacked the last box, three years after we moved into this house, guess what was in it?


It had been in that box for three different moves. Boy, was Ed happy to find his dress shirt! (“Well, I’ve been making do…”)

We iron when we find something wrinkled in the closet that we want to wear right now. (Or not!) So no more ironing box. This doesn’t save time, exactly, but now there’s room where the box was sitting in my closet for other things, like the clothes that have been piled on the chair.

Paying bills.

My way of paying bills is to put them in a pile, hopefully one pile in one place. Although if they start to look messy, I might sweep them into a shoebox and put them in the closet and then, of course, you have to start another pile when more bills come. They always do. After awhile the envelopes change color and then you know that you really do have to pay them this time. But it’s stressful, you know, and sometimes the ol' adrenal glands need a break.

So this month I took all my old bills and set up auto bill pay with my bank and then threw the bills away. Case closed.

And I’m of the food-aging school. That’s where you have a big refrigerator and you keep food until it’s aged, fermented or ripened until it’s time to throw it out. So when my last refrigerator died, I bought a really small refrigerator. I mean, about 10 cubic feet, the kind that uses a nickel-ninety-eight to run for a year and that makes your friends laugh at you.

Now I don’t have room to age the food, and I can skip the bi-monthly go-through-the-refrigerator-and-toss-half-of-what’s-in-there job. That saves time, and our grocery bills have gone down by a surprising amount.

So now:

I feel satisfied with what I’ve been able to create each day;
My bills are paid on time and I don’t even think about it;
I have room in my closet and my refrigerator and more money in my account;
I don't get stressed out much any more.

Without a new calendar app, or talking on the phone in the car all the time, or by getting More Efficient.

Just by going with my flow.

Maybe now I’ll play a game of Solitaire.