Sunday, June 28, 2009

Core Dump


This evening I am awake when I should be asleep. There are two possible reasons for this:
  1. I ate a large bowl of homemade chocolate pudding that probably had more caffeine in it than a double-shot espresso sprinkled with powdered No Doz.
  2. My brain is full of things that need to get out of my brain and on to paper (or pixels or binary strings on a hard drive sector).
In retrospect, that's a false dichotomy. I think 1. started a cascade that allowed 2. to manifest itself.

Whatever the reason, I am awake, and I am pensive.

One thing I am thinking about are different character quirks I have. I hesitate to call them flaws, only because in a past life I probably focused too much on what I was told were my flaws...among them were clumsy, disorganized, scatter-brained, etc.

Clumsy -- well, I never claimed to be Baryshnikov.

Having a hyper-creative mind that thinks pretty radially rather than linearly does tend to make it difficult to organize your life in three dimensions. Scatter-brained, deprived of the value judgement, actually describes me very well. If I want to attack a moving problem, seems like a shotgun works better than a deer rifle. Few of life's problems are sitting still, waiting for the marksman, so I'll take scatter-brained and embrace it.

The challenge is that I am an extremely visual person. That's why I have to have things hanging up, not in drawers. That's why I need piles, not files. The anal-retents who write books on organization create wonderful systems that work for other anal-retents. Me, I've bought a dozen books on how to clear your clutter, how to organize your life, how to create a system so you'll never, ever misplace anything again.

After enduring criticism from family members (okay, just a few of them) for years, and having endured another decade or two from my own internal parental voice, I am coming to the conclusion that I am, for better or for worse, never going to be able to put my life into neat little boxes. I'll never be the poster child for The Container Store, which I feel is indicative of a mild but disturbing pathology. But that's another posting altogether.

So I've come up with an approach that I think works for me. Here it is. Your mileage may vary.

First: accept the fact that I will never be neat and tidy.

This is not throwing in the towel. I'm not resigned to being a slob, I'm resigning to the fact that no matter what, a Franklin Planner will never, ever work for me. I've tried it twice, felt pretty lousy about it twice, and took my covers to Goodwill so some other person can feel bad about themselves for not being able to write an event down six different places (daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, annually, and in the section called "Important things that will cause the world to spin wildly off its axis if forgotten"). Sorry for the run on sentence.

My pile of gear (above) shows the problem I have. Unlike a multidimensional database, where everything can be related to everything else, gear exists in a physical space. So the problem arises when I try to find a system that works best. Do I categorize gear and put it with its messmates? All dry bags together, all cook kits together, all headlamps together? That's fine until I try to pack for a trip. Then I forget something, even with a list.

The alternative is to keep things packed as if I were leaving tomorrow. Great, but my trips are not all created equal. I sometimes need a tow belt, sometimes I don't. First aid kit, yes, but which one? The small one? The big one? The portable ER?

I'm still working out a system. I accept it will not be perfect. That's fine.

Second: Take a good inventory.

In the process of remodeling our bathroom, it became obvious that the bathtub we chose would not work in the space without moving a wall about six inches. This six inches was to come out of my closet.

I have a small closet, just 30 inches wide. But when we had to move all my clothes downstairs and laid everything out on the guest room bed and floor, I was appalled. I am by no means a clothes horse, but I surely don't need twenty button-down shirts. Or twenty pairs of shoes. Or six pair of jeans. And so on and so forth.

When you lay it all out, you see how much there is, and it's a lot. I dare you to take everything out of your closet and lay it out so you can see every garment, every shoe, every belt. Unless you're Imelda Marcos, the result will astonish you, I promise. Do it, and make sure you have a big bag ready for the thrift store.

Interestingly, I could cull 25% of it in about five minutes, without thinking about it too much. When the closet goes back together, it'll have a lot less stuff in it. Which brings me to...

Third: Get rid of stuff that you don't need.

Sounds easy, don't it? Just take every third t-shirt and pitch it. Tell that to my cousin Maude.

When Wife 1.0 was still Girlfriend .99, we helped my grandparents clean out a small house in American Fork, Utah. Maudie lived alone as a widow for better than 40 years, and in that time I don't think she threw anything away. There were stacks of newspapers and magazines and other household items everywhere, with pathways between the living room easy chair and the kitchen and bathroom. She slept in her Lazy Boy because the bedroom was inaccessible. Her basement...well...it was a Stephen King novel.

We filled two large dumpsters with magazines as far back as 1950, spices in cans that were rusted out, and patent medicines from the 1930s. It was like a giant time capsule. Among the junk were a few little patches of civilization, like a small pocketwatch that Maudie's daughter gave to me for helping, found in the bottom of an old shoe box.

Maudie was a dear soul, and I can't imagine what caused her to hoard so much stuff...there's clearly a psychological reason for it, but for me to imagine her logic in sleeping in a chair rather than cleaning magazines off her bed is impossible.

I've always thought about what prompts me to keep something that has marginal value to me. What I do know is that giving away things makes me a lot happier than keeping them. If I buy a shirt and don't wear it for a year, good chance I should recycle it via the local thrift stores. When I do this, I always feel good. I don't do Craigslist. I'd rather let the Universe find a home for stuff where it's needed, and it seems to work out best this way. Life's a potlatch, not a garage sale.

I've done this with gear for the past few years. My acquisition of gear is always something fairly steady, as I receive samples from many manufacturers, wanting my opinion (if it's favorable). These build up for a while, then I take them to work and pass them around until they're gone.

I learned from the motorcycle / sports car phase of my life that you don't own things, they own you. Once divested of the big toys, I'm working my way back down the ladder to owning very little. Two exceptions: books, and canoes. Books because I love them, and canoes because I feel a stewardship to collect and conserve canoes that will probably be lost to the world unless I keep one. It's the one thing I feel a passionate need to do for my sport.

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I'm working on the process. It's not an easy one, but I am finding that divesting myself of non-essentials gives me a clarity to life that would be missing were I to surround myself, life Maudie, with stuff that could squeeze the life out of me. So tomorrow's work, since I have a day off, is to get rid of another round of non-essentials and focus on enjoying the open space, physically and spiritually, that the empty boxes provide.

I'm sure I will never write a book on how to organize your life. That said, I may end up writing one on how to live it instead.

Respectfully submitted,

Canoelover

4 comments:

dvdsweeney said...

Good post Darren. I have similar challenges manifested in different ways. I've also been successfully going through the "eliminate all but the essential" phase these lately.

I've found it to very helpful in clarifying what's important and meaningful in my life -> focusing my time and attention on those things -> eliminate others -> rinse and repeat.

Some posts from zenhabits.net have been helpful too.

http://zenhabits.net/2007/06/eliminate-all-but-the-absolute-essential-tasks/

http://zenhabits.net/2007/09/haiku-productivity-the-fine-art-of-limiting-yourself-to-the-essential/

- D.

canoelover said...

Thanks...good sites. Now I gotta go back and edit what I wrote at 2:00 AM. :-)

David Morlock said...

Great to read something by someone else that isn't a linear thinker and can't stay organized in the usual ways.

Boy Crazy said...

I loved this Darren. We are very similar in the ways you covered. And? Its nice to know I like piles because I'm 'visual' and not lazy. :)