Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Purge End of 2016 Edition- Why I'm Happier Living Minimally

This is the phrase that has been going through my mind a lot lately.
I noticed yesterday that my last personal blog here was January 2015 and was about paring down. Specifically it was about paring down clothes à la the 333 system---33 pieces of clothing (not specialty/sports) for each season.

Part of the reason I haven't been posting on here is that the last couple of years I have been all consumed with my dissertation. But the other day I was trying to explain and lay out the minimalist movement (minus the pretentious hipsters) and then last week someone was talking about the 33 clothing movement. And on Christmas it came up again.

For the first time in a long time I have some breathing room so I thought I'd provide an update to how paring down has worked for me and briefly outline how I use minimalism.

The last couple of years I have taken a ridiculous amount of truck loads of stuff to Goodwill and I still look around the house and spot things that go in the next round. In fact the box on the dining room table on the left hand side of the picture is the current "To Goodwill" box and I just took a full truck load last week.
Now my living room is wide open, which Nehi loves because now it's become a big playground for her. This may seem like a silly thing, but this is a side effect of paring down. I get more joy out of the multiple play dates a day that occur in this open space then I ever did with the stuff that used to fill it.
Here are a couple of examples of recent purges:
  • I got rid of my DVD shelves. I realized that my TV sat on shelves. Which were empty. And it hit me that a lot of furniture is just an excuse to fill it with more stuff. So I moved the DVDs to the TV shelves and dumped the DVD shelves. The hallway (to the right) is now clear. Nehi can race between the living room and bedroom and I no longer feel cramped. 
    • I no longer buy DVDs, preferring digital copies, but next goal is to use Vudu to transfer my DVDs to digital copies so I can get rid of them for good.
    • I got rid of VHS tapes a few months ago so this is the last remnant.
  • I only have two dining room chairs. I want none honestly, looking for benches instead. And that too is part of paring down---a lot of things you get rid of, a lot of things you get better versions of, and a lot of things you replace with things you realize would work better. In over a year I have had one instance where I had two people over for dinner. I rolled my desk chair in and sat on that. No one cared, least of all me.
  • I recently got rid of the one chair I had in the living room. No one visits me so it literally just sat there. And it wasn't comfortable so I never sat in it. I'm thinking about getting a replacement, but another side effect of paring down is you spend a lot more time contemplating purchases, so it may be a while.
  • I recently realized I had posters that I had bought during undergrad at one of those center of campus cheap market things. I didn't like the pictures. But I had moved them for over twenty years. 
    • This too I've noticed with paring down, you suddenly look at something and wonder why the hell you have it.
    • The flip side is on the left there's a Captain America comic print that I bought as celebration for a piece I wrote that I love. On the wall is a pair of pictures, a shot I took of Alcatraz and a commemorative piece of art that supported Alcatraz.
The bedroom looks disorganized because most things are out. I discovered that I like to see things out, so I leave stuff out.
  • I used to have a trunk at the bottom of my bed. It held linens, so was useful, but there was no reason to have it out, so now it's in the closer, accessible but away. I like this trunk as it was a gift when I moved into my dorm freshman year of undergrad and it's been everywhere with me. Likewise I had another trunk but it was empty. So it's become a bit of a hope chest, things I don't want to get rid of for sentimental reasons, but also don't want to have out.
    • The bonus of this is that I no longer bang my foot on the trunk in the middle of the night and Nehi has more running room (are you sensing a theme?).
  • One example of the shifting perspective of paring down is my adorable penguin flannel duvet cover. Before Mom died she bought two flannel comforters for me and the house for winter. One had snowmen on it, another cute stockings. Nehi de-stuffed the snowmen early in her puppyhood and I took the stockings, lugging it cross country. But I realized this winter that it's a comforter for a double and I have a queen, so it never provides coverage or warmth. So away it went. 
  • In the three plus years I've been getting rid of things I have only regretted giving away one thing, a blue sweater of Mom's. And even that not really. It was a 3x so I never wore it, but I had it. The stocking comforter recalled some of these same feelings. It's a little harder to get rid of things I associate with her. But I don't use this, I didn't need it, and someone else could. Do gone.
    • I looked long and hard for a flannel comforter to replace it, because the high desert does get cold in the winter and I did need something. I toss and turn a lot so lots of layered blankets aren't an option. I found this penguin flannel duvet cover. Now my personality tends to snark at things like Spark Joy, even though I do like some of the ideas, but I admit that every time I see these guys I am happy. Look at them---they're adorable!
    • So this is another side effect of what I've found. This duvet cover was pricey. But it's exactly what I wanted, it's adorable, it's super soft and I justify the cost because I won't have to buy a winter cover ever again.
The next big area, and harder for some than others, is the closet.  For me this was harder and easier. At first it was hard because for me getting rid of a lot of things meant getting rid of preconceived ideas about me. I don't wear skirts to work. In fact, I don't wear skirts. I wear dresses to Mass but only a certain kind. I prefer to be comfortable than anything. I had to let go of the idea that I was ever going to be a person who wore skirts, girly-clothes, was going to fit into X. And the weight that lifted from letting all that go was amazing.
Some other key things:
  • I used to wear button down shirts, ties, and vests. Part of it was because men have it easy with dressing professionally and part was comfort. But last year when I was having anxiety attacks a side effect was I couldn't wear tight clothing because it made the attacks worse and/or could start them. Last year I also went back to teaching high school, which is more informal. So I went shopping.
    • Since I had given myself permission to buy new work clothes (but still following the one in, one out rule- so I had to purge things to bring things in) I thought about what I wanted in my work clothes. I wanted something that fit, comfortably, so not tight. I liked colors. I liked no collars or buttons. So the majority of the shirts I got were tunic tops. I got some button down shirts but because they're female not male styles they don't have to be tucked in, and I went a size larger because I have Hulk shoulders, so this fixed the suffocation issue. 
    • The shirts are best for summer, they're cotton and fairly light, but they work for colder seasons by just putting a t-shirt under them and/or a jacket over them.
  • I'm pretty proud of my pared down closet. In the high desert seasons are weird- it was 20 on Christmas, and 58 yesterday, so like the South, we tend not to pack away clothes. Your wardrobe is your wardrobe all year long.
    • I do have a weakness for jackets. I don't get to wear them a lot here, one professor jokingly said New Mexico had like one week where you could wear a jacket and he wasn't wrong. But these are good quality, I do love them (and the matching pins I've collected over the years), and if I move somewhere else I'm sure I'll get more use out of them.
This year my favorite discovery was Old Navy's Boyfriend Tee. I have tattoos so I hate the cap sleeve tees that most women's t-shirts have. As a high school teacher, I also don't like deep v-necks. These t-shirts are perfect (middle stack). They're not expensive. They're super soft, and they fit great. I bought five short sleeves and when the long sleeves came out bought a bunch of them (left side). I love them.  Colors I couldn't find I search Goodwill for (right side). They're light so they're good for layering, I wear them under sweaters, under the Wal-mart tunic topics I bought, so they're good all year.
Sweaters also got pared down. Just seven. Neutral colors mostly, go with just about everything else I own. That red sweater was Mom's and is older than I am. I have decades of pictures with her in it. I don't wear it often but I'll never get rid of it.

The top shelf is pants- 2 khaki, 1 navy blue, 1 sage, black corduroy, red corduroy, grey, purple jeans.
Bottom shelf is cargo pants, three pairs of jeans.
I struggled with the pants because I've been trying to lose weight the last couple of years (which when dissertating you should just cut yourself slack on) so my weight fluctuates a lot and so I pretty much rely on Goodwill's $5 pants.

One thing I like about my wardrobe is what things like 333 and Spark Joy is that I love everything I own now. It all fits. It all looks good on me. It's all in good shape. I love it all. There is no stress at all getting dressed for work, or anything else, because I can literally grab anything and be happy. This seems like a small thing, but it's not.

The middle shelves are my t-shirt collection which I will never get rid of, never pare down. Some of the shirts are just my geek shirts, but a lot were purchased when traveling and represent adventures.

The miscellaneous:
  • I have several sweatshirts/sweatpants because I run/walk with Nehi every day.
    • It's the same reason I have a lot of knit hats and gloves. For warmer weather I also have a lot of caps for the same reason. Could I get away with less?  Maybe. But this is one of those conversations- if I had one sweatshirt/one pair of sweatpants instead of seven I'd have to wash them every day. So what's the trade off of more items versus water? Time? I choose to keep what I have.
      • But this also means that I got rid of all my pajamas because I didn't wear them and run Nehi in the pair I wore that night, so...
  • I have a wool Navy pea coat that's a "fancy" winter coat.
  • A military winter coat for long time in the cold and a jean jacket and polarfleece, so I'm covered there.
  • I have a lot of fashion scarves. I don't wear them often. But some of them were Mom's so for now they stay.
  • I struggle with shoes. I have issues with my knees, and standing on concrete floors for eight hours a day doesn't help. I tend to have two pairs of everything, one brown one black, so two pairs of boat shoes, two pairs of dress shoes, two pairs of work boots, one pair of sneakers.
    • The shoes are an expensive trial and error. Finding shoes that don't make my knees throb by the end of the day is hard. 
    • As a default I wear my sneakers most days.
I recently reorganized my office.  I wanted all my "work" books out, I wanted a better background for the video lectures I make for my online classes, and I wanted to clear out some living room space.
  • The bookshelves on the left are full of books that if I ever got a college teaching job would go to my campus office.
  • Nehi's crate is there because I watch her through my web cam while I'm at work.
  • I made the desk, it's wide and long (and it's my fifth desk incarnation) because I noticed while dissertating that I need to be able to spread out my papers, notes, books so I needed to large surface space.
  • But there's not a lot else. I have a plastic filing box for current tax stuff that gets filed regularly, a small filing cabinet under the desk that's the only drawers I have.
  • Above my desk is a corkboard for inspiration and a whiteboard where I track dissertation progress.
The office has a walk in closer which I converted two years ago into extra shelf space. I made ladder shelves which are super easy and cool. Next time I move I'll probably paint them before moving them into a new place. These are mostly high school teaching books, recreation books and banker boxes that contain dissertation work.
  • Last year I got rid of a lot of papers I'd been dragging through multiple moves, lamps that didn't work that I "might" someday fix.
  • One project that I do have on the horizon is to digitize all the family photo albums using Scan My Photos. I did a box last year, and was really happy (it's $99 per box, you fill it, they can it and send you them digitized and return the photos). I inherited all the albums when Mom died, so I'd like to see them saved.
  • I personally don't display many pictures, but I like seeing them on my computer as my screensaver. Digitizing them has also allowed me to share them with family and friends which is nice.
 My kitchen is small. Super small. Nehi frequently gets told to get out if I'm in there because there's literally no room.
  • I pared down kitchen utensils to bare necessities, silverware to same, plates, cups, glasses, mugs all down to just what I use.
  • Same with tupperware and most recently, cooking ware. I've gotten rid of frying pans (why do you need more than one? I don't, gone) and have upgraded some. I recently started baking bread weekly so got a great Lodge pot to do this in.
  • I noticed that when I'm off from work, and have time to hand wash my dishes, I use less and could probably purge down more. Except I'm not off work much, so I keep the extras and use the dishwasher.
  • My godmother got me a toaster for Christmas. I had mentioned the paring down during one of our Skype conversations and one example I mentioned was that I had been debating for over two years about whether or not I should get a toaster- did I not eat toast because I didn't have a toaster? Would I eat more toast if I HAD a toaster? Was broiling bread enough like toast to get by?
    • Her note on the toaster said Santa sometimes brings you what you want and not just what you need.
    • I've had toast pretty much every morning since :-)

So those are all the details, the breakdowns, but here are some of the larger takeaways I've noticed.
  • Returning to the quote at the top, I seem to be returning more and more to the hippie roots of my childhood. Giving to Goodwill, shopping at Goodwill, doing more with less, these are things that I feel good about. I feel good about ducking out of the capitalistic revolving door. If I need things or really decide I WANT something I get it. But I think a lot more about purchases before making them.
  • This mindfulness is one of the things I like best. I am more aware of the footprint of purchasing. What went into making certain things, whether or not I want to condone those practices. Packaging material. Supporting more small businesses whose practices I approve of. Thinking very hard about the difference between want and need.
    • I'm an English teacher so you would think that paring down the books was hard. But it really wasn't. Books I need for work are hard copies, because I highlight and Post-It note them. But books for fun I ask for on Kindle now. Or get from the library. While I love to read I realized as I pared down that books for me got sorted into: work, loved and will read again, special editions to keep, and things I liked but will never look at again. The majority of my books fell into that last category, so I released them into the world for others to love.
  • The last few years have been hard, working on my PhD, other things. A lot of things out of my control. A nice side effect of all of this is the control. I can shape my space. I can clear the clutter. I can control this. Making my home an island of calm has been nice.
  • You'll notice that a lot of these things resulted in making life easier for Nehi. This may seem insane at first. Except she's one of the things that makes me very happy, like ridiculously happy. And this too is a result of paring down, when you get rid of stuff you don't want or need, and pare down to only the basics, you start to think more and more about what DOES make you happy and refocus on that.
    • So the house is clearer because playing in the open space with Nehi makes me happier than anything else.
    • So I have seven sweatshirts/sweatpants/hats because my twice a day runs/walks with Nehi are often the best parts of my day.
    • I started buying Nag Champa incense again because the smell reminds me of growing up and makes me happy.
    • It takes me fifteen minutes to clean the house. That means there's lots of time for other things. 
    • The simplicity has spread to other things:
      • No bottled water, I have a water bottle.
      • Less and less processed food, simpler foods, meals where I know everything IN the meal.
      • More cooking, less buying crap.
      • More time running, walking, doing yoga. 
I am certainly happier now than I was. Not just because I've decluttered, or pared down, but because by doing so I had to really think about who I was and what it was that I wanted, what made me happy.
I know this isn't for everyone.
But I know for me, this is the best way to live.

And it seems that once you get started, the more you realize just how little you need or want, and how much happier you can be.

So if anyone is looking for a new start in 2017 I recommend this. You don't have to do it all at once. There are tips like pack things in a box and set aside for a month, if you don't look for anything in that box in that time, get rid of it. Or if you have a garage you can move things there as a temporary try out period. There are lots of websites and blogs you can read. For me it's less about the method, or the things, then what you discover about yourself.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

33 Things, maybe

So I've spent the last few months paring down, purging, streamlining my stuff. Kitchen stuff, living room stuff, clothes stuff. Some stuff I've posted on Facebook and given to other grad students, most has just gone to the local Goodwill (truckloads and truckloads!). There's a stack of four boxes of books in the hallway ready to go to Goodwill as we speak. Some friends have called dibs on books, and I know there are causes I could mail them to but it cost me $6 to mail one book to a friend and I don't really have the money to mail things, so Goodwill it is. I've been more concerned with purging, so haven't been taking money for these things. Plus, if it's going to grad students who are poor like me I figure I'm earning massive karma points.

With the new year, lots and lots of people have been posting about resolutions and things to do. Not a big resolution person, but I do set goals, and with the first and second rounds of heavy purging behind me, there are still some things I want to do.
  • kitchen needs another round of purging. I'm looking at you five travel mugs.
  • linen closet is finished, but I realized I needed another set of flannel sheets for the cold weather, so bought that. I have two sets of sheets, one set for regular weather and cold weather (so two warm weather, two flannel). While this may seem excessive, as a grad student, I don't always have time to wash one set before I need to put them on, so it's worth the no stress for me. Same for towels, I have two sets.
  • now that the walk in closet ladder shelves are finished, there's another round of purging there as a lot of those books are ones I used to use when teaching high school and in my new path will never teach again, so a lot of those can go.
In all the "resolution," "new me" things streaming across social media, one thing that did strike me is the 333 Project. You get 33 things (items of clothing) per season. Seems in line with what I'm trying to do, and ties and shirts every day for work make things easy, so I went through the closet to take pictures with posting them here in mind as I counted up to my 33 (or 66 as you'll see) things. As I pulled things out to photograph I managed to dump another garbage bag of things on the floor as I saw them in the light of day.

Albuquerque (and eastern North Carolina) doesn't follow the four seasons per se (it can be 80 degrees then 50 or 50 then 20), so I won't be packing up items and storing them, but did reorganize the closet for warm and not-warm.

I wear a shirt and tie and jeans every day I teach (dark Tuesdays, earth tones on Thursdays). The weather here doesn't often allow for jackets (maybe one week in the fall and one in the spring), but I wear them as weather allows. Based on a blog I read a while ago and don't remember the name to credit, I try to dress more informally/accessible during office hours so a top, or sweater and slacks. So here is the entirety of the clothes my own.

I own two belts, one brown and one black and four fashion scarves which I don't wear and should probably get rid of but they were my mom's and I find myself keeping them. I have a jewelry box, and mom's jewelry box. I rarely wear them but like to go through mom's stuff. And despite only wearing her wedding ring, a watch, my necklace with a St. Cristopher medal and crucifix, and the same earrings every day, I don't feel the boxes needs to go.

Per the "rules" I'm not counting my sleepware/work out wear which is the same. I have seven pairs of sweatpants which is what I sleep and wear days I work from home as it's easier to wear to bed because then I don't have to change because of Nehi's multiple walks every day. I do have a ridiculous amount of PJs bottoms (like fifteen?) but it's a tradition in my family to get Christmas PJs on Christmas Eve so I have a hard time parting with them. A few years ago I recycled them into making blankets for me, Mom, and my sister. I'm sure at some point I'll figure out a way to reuse them so they stay for now.
Likewise I wear t-shirts to bed, so not counting those as it's also what I wear in my "off" time and spring and summer. I did recently purge my t-shirt collection A LOT.
I didn't want to get rid of nostalgic t-shirts/sweatshirts from high school I taught at/graduated from but knew I would never wear them. So I sent them off to be made into a quilt. There was still purging, as the quilt would only fit so many things, but now I will get to keep those items for nostalgia but they're "useful."

I do have a set of 9 t-shirts that are work quality and can be worn in spring/summer.

Not counting socks or underwear, per rules, but have pared down both the last few months.

I don't really have "specialty" items, although I have a beach bag with swimsuit and swim shorts in it.

So if it's 33 items per season, that's 66 for warm and 66 for not-warm. I'm WAY below that (even with my t-shirt obsession). Some of these items are not getting a lot of wear in Albuquerque, but did in North Carolina so I'm holding onto them because I'll be moving in eighteen months and there's no way to know where I'm heading. I did put the last bit of girly items (skirts I usually wear to church, cocktail dress, etc.) in the trunk for storage because grad school doesn't require these things but faculty gatherings in a couple of years might. So they get stored, but don't need to be out in the closet.

I have one small pile of shorts/pants that don't fit that I keep despite round after round of purging. The pants because they are/were "perfect fit" work/dress pants from Target and in my ongoing quest to lose weight hope to fit in them again at some point. Same thing with the shorts- they were pricey, heavy-duty cargo shorts. But it's a pile of six things, so I feel okay about holding onto them.

It is true that no one will ever notice you're repeating items. It is also true that life is easier when you have less to choose from. It is also true that life is better when you purge items that don't fit, "might" be you at some point, and just aren't your style.
I admit that my work choice of shirt, tie, and vests or jackets makes my life easier. Girl clothes and expectations for women of professional dress can be ridiculous. But still, I think particularly for grad students deciding what their professional look is, this is one way to approach it.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Living Small is More Than Just Purging

The last few months I've been dedicated to purging belongings- dishes, kitchen stuff, books, furniture, clothes.

Some has gone to friends and colleagues. Grad students like free things.
Most has gone to Goodwill.
Furniture wise, I am down to the essentials, although I'm staring at a cheap bookcase in my office and thinking of ways to get rid of it. Same with a rolling tupperware bin in my bedroom.
Book wise I think I'm down to essentials, having completed the latest purge last week.
Clothing wise I still have one more round. Despite the fact that I hate girl clothes, am still holding onto skirts.  Part of me still feels like I need to hold onto the person people think I should be. But that gets easier. Once you get going it gets easier with every round of purging. Some items may make it through one more move in eighteen months because they're climate dependent clothing and I'm not rich so rather move it one more time than have to repurchase it.

Going through all this has changed how I view things. I used to sometimes shop at Goodwill. Now if I need more shirts or ties for work that's my first stop. If they don't have it I just wait and go back and check later. There is no rush. Who cares if I wear the same shirt? Or tie? Even if my students are so bored that they're keeping score, what does that have to do with me? Or how I feel about myself?
Not a damn thing.

I find myself viewing the things I want to hold onto (I've spent years gathering This-End-Up furniture) in a different light. At this point I don't need anything else. I may swap some furniture out (I hate my hand me down couch- it's clunky and heavy) and I rather have benches and better chairs than the crap vinyl chairs I have for my dining room table.
These days I rather re-organize things so I have more open space. Reshape my space. Which is a lot easier when there's less of it.

As a want-to-be professor there are some things I can't get away from, mainly books. But I'm no longer holding onto print outs or drafts once something is published. And I'm more judicious about what I get. And organizing what I have better helps too. There's also the fact that most of these books will eventually live in my university office, and not in my house. Although one of the things I like about having a separate room as an office is that once I leave it at the end of the day I am finished working, which helps turn off my brain.

But even with that, I've reorganized that space a lot. Over break I tend to do all the things I don't have time for during the semester. This break this included organizing almost all of the loose pictures that I've been lugging around. They'll be scanned and put on DVD then the cloud. The original pictures will probably be stored, then tossed. I spent the money to turn a ton of t-shirts and sweatshirts from my time in Manteo into a quilt so I can hold onto the items but they're useful and not just crap. I also turned my walk in closet in my office into usuable space with ladder shelves.
The closet was just a dumping ground when we moved in here over a year and a half ago. In some ways that was good because after not seeing any of this stuff in over a year, it was easy to purge it, particularly the papers. There are just two boxes of photo albums left (which I'm saving up to also scan) and two boxes of Mom's knick-knacks which I'm saving up to buy an IKEA display cube for.

Once you start getting rid of things you realize how little you actual need. And you realize that you think about organizing things differently. I got rid of my filing cabinets and instead bought cardboard banker boxes. Right now they contain materials for classes I'm in now, articles recently written and are stored. But when I move next, these boxes will go into the recycling bin because there will be no reason to hold onto them.

I have noticed that purging is additive. And it makes you think. Why do you need fifteen of the same shirt? Or sweater? Or plates? More than a couple of sheet sets?
The answer is you don't.
Would you rather spend money on another thing just to have a thing? Or take a trip? Or put into savings for something you really want?

I'm trying to live small in other ways. Smaller meals. Simpler ingredients. Tossing items as they come in the mail straight into recycling. Unsubscribing from things to declutter my inbox as well as my real box. Tossing crap. Not holding onto things just to hold onto. Taking pictures instead of getting. Thinking differently about what I purchase and why. I wait longer for things to see if I really want it. I make wish lists that I revisit later to see if I really want it.
I'm hoping too as a grad student that this simpler living will help me with a tighter budget now that I'm surviving on less than half of what I was last year. But mostly I feel lighter. I feel as though I look at things in a different light.

Hopefully, in a year and a half I'll have a university job and Nehi and I will be moving. I'm already looking forward to that move for a lot of reasons, but for how much LESS we'll move tops the list.

I waited two months over a sweater. Even waited past Christmas. When I finally purchased it, I feel like I earned it in some way. A friend of mine used to say it's all about perspective. And one of the best things about doing all of this is how it's a forced change of perspective.
We'll see what I do next.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Holiday-Thanksgiving Focus

I have not worked in three days. Wednesday I inadvertently spent on the couch, this round of gum graft surgery wiped me out and was more painful than the first round. Thursday I cooked, addressed Christmas cards, and decorated the house. Yesterday I bought a tree, a wreath, decorated the tree and finished decorating the house. I made Mom's bourbon balls. And went down a rabbit hole- Mom always made her bourbon balls with Jack Daniels, so that's always what I get. Was confused yesterday when I went to buy it and it said whiskey.
So I have myself an Internet education on bourbon vs. whiskey.
There's no actual baking involved so house smells sweetly of Jack. Which is funny because I'll inhale bourbon balls all break but if you put this in front of me in a glass I'd gag.
Go figure.

There are some, not many, recipe cards Mom sent me right out of college, when I was living on my own. She meant to keep going until I had all her recipes, but she started getting sick by the time I graduated in 98, and so I have only a few. I miss her more at this time of year. She's the one who taught me Christmas had a magic all its own.

Today, it's back to work. I need to finish chapter one of the dissertation to submit for my theory course.
I need to work on my Nightmare on Elm Street book chapter.
I need to choose one of my early modern comp questions to revise and send to committee member.
I need to grade last student research reports.
And I need to prep for my Viking Women study group tonight for this week's final exam.

Which brings me back to the purge-burn-it-down swing I've been on. I have four tupperware boxes and a hatbox of Christmas stuff. And in no way, ever will these things go on the purge pile. Unpacking each thing is a part of Mom. There are the snowmen, and wooden Santas, and the fairy tale figures (one of the few nice things from Marcelle). The ornaments from high school and college.
I love that I have traditions based on Mom's. Christmas starts as soon as you see Santa in the Macy's Day Parade. The day after Thanksgiving you get the tree and decorate it.

On the flip side, there WAS another round of purging.
  • Glass Christmas tree plates
  • three garbage bags of clothes (socks, sweaters, skirts, shirts)
  • Extra duffel bags and luggage stuff
  • Glass vases, glass beads
On this break's list of things I'm not:
  • I am not someone who wears skirts. I hate them. They're uncomfortable. So on the pile. I kept a couple of woolen ones, in case I move to another clime, but have a feel they may go in another purge.
  • For some indecipherable reason, I had ten cocktail dresses, dating all the way back to college when we had dress up parties. I kept three, black, adult cocktail dresses because they might be handy for faculty stuff. The rest, see ya!
  • I do not need twenty shirts, half of which are the same color. Gone.
  • I do not need fifty pairs of fuzzy socks. While I do need to wear socks in cold weather due to my Raynaud's, I need seven- one for each day. Out.
  • I rarely wear sweatshirts. Why do I have ten? No longer.
I stared at my closet yesterday and I pulled out everything that I had not worn in over a year. I will no longer cling to the idea that I might in the future and some point become that person. I will no longer make myself feel bad because I am not that person.
Sometimes it's easier to define ourselves by what we're NOT than what we are.

This is the first Christmas ever I have not gone home. Nehi and I will be staying here. I have no money. There's dissertation work to do, comp meetings to have, reading for next semester to do- just a lot on the To Do list, and not a lot of time.
So I imagine that there will be more purging (I'm eyeing books on the shelf now that I'm finished with coursework and can cut).

Friday, October 24, 2014

One Foot in Front of the Other

I wrote some about this last week on my other blog, the scholarly/PhD adventure one.
But things aren't getting better and I'm feeling more overwhelmed.

So back to the drawing board.

This week I tanked a presentation in my seminar- it was a dead stick room. Nothing. And I lectured more than I asked questions. And it was awful. It was a topic that I rock on, but it was awful.

I was called a robot by another grad student, that I must have a clone in order to get all my work done. And had horrible flashbacks to MHS- where the only reasons people could come up with for why I worked so hard and why I got so much down was because I was single and had no kids.

Another student who I thought was becoming a friend is now ignoring me.

Yet another student(s) being nasty to me for working hard, being ahead of the game.

I almost cried in front of a professor because he asked how I was.

And my father hasn't spoken to me in three weeks. He hasn't spoken to me in three weeks because I told him that at $14,000 a year I couldn't afford to help support him anymore. And he stopped talking to me. I tried to make sure I explained it- that my TAship didn't pay much, that next semester I'd be paid less than this semester because I'm teaching a different class. That he had a good, full time, salaried job. That I had little savings, and couldn't afford to empty it or take on massive student loan debt. And I got nothing. I've gotten silence. So I can't help but wonder if the reason why he has dealt with me since Mom died is because I paid for things. It's an awful thing to think. To say. To type. But I don't know what other conclusion to come to. Simple causality, right? X happens, then Y therefore X caused Y.
My sister said he's "processing" but when I called her because I was upset she also talked about herself the entire time, so there's that.

So this was not a great week. I am trying not to think of the personal. I'm trying to focus on work. I have a ridiculous amount of work to get done in the next five weeks. I need to focus on getting this round of my dissertation finished, I have one thirty page article to finish, and two more to write. I have classes to finish teaching. I have comps in February.
I don't have time to think about the fact that my life has fallen apart. That I now have no family. That what little support system I had has evaporated. That Nehi and I will spend Christmas in Albuquerque alone. That there will be no one at graduation next year. That I am on my own.

There is no one who cares that I wrote a great class called Revising Milton based on my book proposal that got approved for next semester. That a professor told me "great work" on a project. That I'm trucking right along on creating the resource manual for the TAs. That I'm making great progress on my diss.
There is literally NO ONE who cares about any of this.

They tell you that the PhD can be a lonely process. That it's important to have a support network, connections outside of the program.

But what if you don't have that option? What if most days you're so focused on putting one foot in front of the other, and checking things off the list that you don't have time to think about anything else? That you almost break down in front of a professor because they actually seemed to care about what was going on.
But you can't. Because that's not how you become a rock star. And with this job market, even rockstars have a hard time competing with 899 others for a single job. There's no time for that.

But some early mornings on my walks with Nehi. Or in evenings on the couch, a phrase floats through my head-

I used to have a family.

And it plays on a loop- over and over.
And there's nothing I can do about that.

Postscript: and it occurs to me, that when Mom was sick, all those years, when people asked him how she was, he always said fine. I always wondered if he stayed with Mom so people wouldn't think poorly of him. So it seems as though I'm denied as well the support of anyone from back home, who won't know about any of this. Because I'm sure, despite the fact that he's cut me off, when people ask about me he will continue to say I'm fine. Or not. I guess I won't know. I guess I should stop caring. Or wondering. So it appears I'm not just alone, but also cut off. Mom used to call us gypsies. Wanderers. Guess Nehi and I are nomads.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

At What Point Do You Have To Face Reality?

The other day I saw on Facebook someone who once flirted with me. They look good. Like, ridiculously good. Like special order, deliver to my house good.

But seeing this has now prompted several days of being depressed for me. Because I couldn't tell you the last time someone flirted with me, or liked me, or even noticed me. I don't have many what I'd call "girly" moments, but I have fallen into a spiral of them, and they've led to depression.

Because I'm 38. And I haven't had a date in 5 years. And I haven't been in a relationship in 12. And frankly, that's just fucking depressing.
When I was younger, I dated  a lot. Did I use up my quota? For a while I had a hell of a track record- people dated me, and then the very next person they dated they married. I should have made a business out of it. And we're not talking one or two, we're talking like five. It was not good for my self-esteem, the question of "what was wrong with me?" came up a lot in my inner voice.That same little, shrill voice is back.

When I was younger, I was bereft if I wasn't with someone. I got over that. I have gone to school. I have earned degrees, I have bought a house and taken care of my mom. I in short, have grown up. And while it's not a popular thought with grown, adult, feminists, these days I find myself very tired.
I'm tired of having to worry about everything by myself.
Of not having anyone share the load so I can take a break or rest.
Of not having any one in my corner.
Of not having support.
Of just not having anyone.

It would be nice to have someone to share things with, both the load that comes with the bad things, and the joy that comes with the good.

Maybe this is it. Maybe at this point it's time to face the fact that I'm going to be single the rest of my natural life.  Maybe I should stop daydreaming and deal with the reality of life and get over it.

And that may all be true. This may be what being a grown up is. But I am a daydreamer. I like to imagine a better life, a different life. A happy ending. The movie ending where I come home and he's sitting there waiting for me, having come for me because he couldn't bear to be away from me one second longer.

So maybe I'll drag myself out of this depression and refocus on work. Because while burying yourself in your work may not be healthy, it at least occupies your time.

Or maybe I'll daydream a little longer. A little daydreaming never hurt anyone, right? For a little while I think I'll just pretend that Stiles is talking just to me.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Redefining My Life- Material Objects Edition

Thirteen years ago, all my possessions were contained in this miniature version of a Brooklyn apartment.
 My clothes fit in a single, small closet. I had little furniture- in fact all the furniture seen here, except for the futon and the bookcase on the left, was purchased within months of moving into this apartment.

Jack Reacher famously travels with only the clothes on his back and a folding travel toothbrush. When he needs new/different clothes, he simply buys them. At one point, as he considers settling down and getting a house he considers all the things you need to settle down- first there's the house, then you need stuff for the yard, and that leads to more stuff. It never seems to end, the need for things generates more need for things. While Reacher at first seems to live a simple life, he is also the epitome of consumerism and capitalism.

Perhaps Fight Club had it right- the things you own end up owning you.
My friends Tammy and Chip chronicled their move from house to sailboat to Napa in Tammy's blog. One of the big focuses other than the sailing specific stuff is the idea of downsizing as they moved from their house to their sailboat. Recently, they've come onto land, settling near Napa, and once again are living in a house. I'm not sure if it's reading Tammy's blog, or something else, but I've been on a bit of a purge myself these days.

I was sitting looking at my shelves the other day and realized that as much as I LOVE my books, there were quite a few on my shelves that I'd read once and never feel the need to read again. Some I was given as free copies that I know I'll never read. So I started going through them- if I didn't think I'd ever reread it again it went on the stack. I'm aiming to be an English professor, so I'm never going to NOT have books, but it's certainly possible to wean down. I ended up with six boxes- all donated to the UNM Medieval Society for their book sale, so good all the way around.

This summer I also weeded out my closet- a truck load went to Goodwill. And yet that purge continues. I was looking at my sweaters, most of which I don't wear, and wondered why I have all these clothes I don't wear. Some are due to now living in the desert, and I don't have a problem with keeping some clothes in storage in case I move to more Northern climes after graduation. But that's not the majority of my clothes occupying TWO closets in my bedroom. Instead there are dresses, tops, shirts, that I bought at some point and never wear.

It's hard throwing things out, sorting to give away to Goodwill. I think in a large part because by giving items away we're giving up on a future self we at one point envisioned- I will never be the jewel toned silk shirt girl. I will never be the 1940s type skirt girl. So in a lot of ways, purging is about knowing who you are, and letting go of everything that is not that.
It also means letting go of the belief that recycling the clothes, giving them away, is somehow a waste of money. As though it's not wasted money gathering dust in your closet. Or that the greater issue isn't that we should think a little more WHEN we spend money, and perhaps spend a little more wisely.

And this leads me to the larger issue. I think in large part we end up defining ourselves by our possessions- our clothes, our jewelry, our furniture. We're this type of person, or that type of person. We can be sorted according to likes, and styles we own.

For the last ten years, I'm not sure who I've been. I was defined by my roles, what I did, not necessarily who I was. I was the daughter who moved home to help with Mom. I was the one who bought a house for her family. Who helped support them.  And then all that was done, and I moved to New Mexico, and I spent the last year trying to remember how to live on my own again. But I was still defined by being the person who put family first. But some of that changed this summer- I lost a job, which meant losing $20,000 a year in income. Which meant I was no longer in a position to help support my family without emptying my savings. But me saying that, telling people that, hasn't changed anything. Except perhaps me. The fact that no one seems to care about helping me out, pulling their own weight, or even acknowledging that I said anything, has changed my feelings. In many ways it has tilted my entire perspective. Which is not always a good thing- but ever since I was little organizing things, establishing order over chaos, has always been my way of dealing.

At Christmas, Dad announced he didn't want any of Mom's stuff, and we needed to clear it out or he was going to get rid of it. So I came home with a truck full of knick knacks and photo albums and a vague sense of unease. Here I was clinging desperately to family, and history- trying to remember, worried about losing parts of Mom. But the last few months I've come to wonder why I'm holding on so tight. No one else is. And it's exhausting.

So maybe that's a big part of the reasoning behind the purge- if we're defined by the the things we surround ourselves with, and if we can refocus that frame at any moment, then maybe that's it.

I am a woman who wears ties. And jeans. And slacks. I have little fashion sense- my clothes are organized by color, I store my ties on the shirts they go with, and I tend to buy three things in the same style but different colors so I can avoid anything resembling shopping. This wardrobe suits my job as a TA, and should suit the job of English professor. I dislike clutter, and am not much for knick knacks. I have some of Mom's, but am thinking I'll get a case to display them all so I keep them, but they're sorted.


And I have to admit, that with this tilted perspective, this idea that perhaps I really am on my own, part of the thinking behind the purge is rather morbid.
I'm single. I'm not married. I have no legacy. I have no children. I thought of this at Christmas as I packed up so much of Mom's stuff- so much of this was meant to be passed down to children, to family. I held decades of family memories in my hands, stories of holidays and family. And yet, when I die, no one will care. The stories will be lost. The items discarded.
So when you're single, and you die, what happens to your stuff? Who comes to take care of your stuff? Does the entire house just go to Goodwill? My will covers what to do with my body, and the money to cover it. I left my money to Dad, despite the huge cracks and fissures that have developed there- what do I care, I can't use it.
So if I don't have anyone to leave anything to what do I do with what I have?
Take pictures of memories.
Write about my experiences.
Send it all out into the world.
Because once I'm gone, no one's going to care about the crap in my apartment.

I guess a lot of this comes down to a material focus on the greater things going on in my life. Who I want to be. What I want my life to be. Maybe if I can sort through the material goods, deciding what is and is not essential to my life, I can by default determine what type of life I have, and want.