Monthly Archives: September 2008

CLEANING THE ATTIC #15: Paper Chase

Someone told me years ago that 90% of the clutter in our homes is reading material.

After working on my studio purge, I believe it.

I am a readaholic. Too bad there’s no 12-step program for me. But I’m beginning to see the light.

Being a readaholic is connected to having packat-itis. Whatever mode we use to collect information, that’s a cue to what we hoard. Whatever gives us inspiration, that’s another cue.

Great insights, all. But the simple fact is….

I simply have way, way, way too much reading material in here!

First there’s paperwork. Experts claim we only use 20% of the papers we think we need to keep “just in case”. So we can safely ditch the other 80%. But how to decide??

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but whenever you read expert advice about organizing your paperwork, the first thing they tell is to keep seven years’ worth of records in case you’re ever audited by the IRS.

That…is a lot of paperwork.

And that’s exactly the kind of boring paperwork I’d love to chuck. If I have to keep stuff, I’d rather it were stuff I like to look at…

Can you say “internet banking”? Or “Quickbooks?” Okay, you still have to keep paper records or be absolutely sure you always back up your computer files. I have a sad story to tell about that, and no, it wasn’t my fault. Another time.

I have one solution that works really well, especially if you have to clean a pile in a hurry. You put all your important papers in big grocery bags or boxes. Set them aside (preferably out of sight, like in a closet or under a desk) for oh, six months to a year.

Then, when you have a few hours to spare, pull them out and sort through them. (Tip: This works even better if you leave it long enough to totally forget you even have it.)

I guarantee you’ll throw most of them away. (This wonderful cleaning tip comes from my mother. Blame her.)

Okay, you might find a few papers that will make you slap your forehead and go, “Ohmigod, that’s where that form went!!” So maybe you should pull out the bills, show applications, etc., the papers you know you need to deal with–and put all the “maybe’s”, “we’ll see’s” and “oh geez” ones in those aforementioned bags.

It’s amazing how those “maybe” things just don’t seem so compelling six months later.

Next are the catalogs. I am a catalog queen. I love catalogs. But I realized there are really only half a dozen or so I need to refer to regularly. And with so many companies now offering online ordering, I only need to keep the ones that are really informative and fun to read. I threw out all the others.

Another professional insight: Years ago, I considered sending buyers my catalog on a CD. I hesitated, because I wasn’t sure how easy it would be for them to actually use it. In my purge, I found one company had sent me a CD of their catalog. I looked at the date. Sure enough, I hadn’t looked at it once in three years. So substituting a CD doesn’t work as an alternative to a really good paper catalog.

Then there are the magazines….where do I start? I have given away hundreds of magazines in the last few weeks. I quickly skimmed many of the trade publications to see if there was anything that begged to be kept. There were a few. But the rest got passed on to other artists. (My home and lifestyle magazines were donated to various waiting rooms across town, including the emergency room at our local hospital, and to Freecycle. Thank you, gentle readers and fellow Freecylers, for the great suggestions!)

Books. Ahhhh….books.

If you’ve been reading this series all along, you know we’ve already purged well over a thousand books from our attics, hallways, bookshelves and living room. I’ve even managed to move on a few cookbooks.

It got harder in my studio. Hey, they’re all such great books! How-to (make jewelry, dye wool, solder silver, succeed in business) books. Books about art. Books about how to make art. Books about what to do when you hit a rut and you aren’t making art anymore. Clip-art books so you can use someone else’s art. Books about African, Japanese, Native American and prehistoric art. Books about bugs, sea shells, rocks, textiles, dolls and beads. Books that I intend to alter. Books for cutting up to decorate the books I intend to alter. And books that teach techniques for doing this. Even books that feature projects I wrote for making….books.

I have to pull the box-and-stuff-it-in-the-attic thing for a lot of these. It’s just too hard to ask “stay-or-go”.

But it’s actually getting easier as I go along. I have quite a pile of really cool art books that just aren’t for me anymore. Hopefully, some lucky visitor to my Open Studio will go home with one (or several!) instead.

The short story is this: I looked at everything and asked myself:

Do I LOVE this book/magazine/catalog? Does it continue to excite me and inspire me?

Or are those designs and projects now ho-hum?

Does it inform me?

Or can I get the same information quickly and easily on the internet?

Is it still useful to me? Am I really going to make that project, use that image, try that recipe, read that again to get that one little insight again?

Or is that moment over for good?

It’s surprising how quick and simple the answer usually is. And if it’s not, well, I just set the item aside to go upstairs for awhile. Maybe when I check again, the answer will be more clear.

It’s easier to let go of a title these days. Even if I find I have to own that book again, I can always buy another copy. It used to be really hard, and sometimes expensive, to find a specific book. But with today’s powerful search engines, and great resources like BookFinder, you need never go bookless again.

It helps, too, when I think about writing my next book. This is all in service to that worthy goal.

I’ve recycled most of this paper stuff. It’s either getting passed on, sold or put in the recycling bin.

A new book is still a delicious treat, a new magazine is a cheap and quick fix. Nothing like it. Some women buy a new lipstick, I buy a new magazine.

And when I am researching an idea, I love to immerse myself in all the possibilities. It works for me.

But I think I’m going reacquaint myself with our local library, too.

Um….you’ll forget everything I said about cutting down on books when it’s time for you to buy mine, right?

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #14: Focus on One Area

I’ve been sick all week. I have very little energy for cleaning.

But open studios wait for no woman, sick or not. And so I come in here and I keep plugging away.

What helps?

Focusing on one small area at a time.

Clearing just one shelf, or one drawer, or one pile, keeps me from getting overwhelmed. I still accomplish something. And one more little empty space opens up.

Of course, I need about 150 more of those little spaces to open up. And soon.

But I’m trying not to think about that til the fever abates.

P.S. Someone from my Freecycle group emailed, offering to take everything I’ve posted off my hands for another fund-raising yard sale. I gathered up all the items that people never responded to or never showed up for, boxed them up and stowed them in the garage. They should be picked up by end-of-day–yay! The person said they could continue to pick up more stuff for another week or so. Hallelujah!

I’m especially grateful because my local consignment shop said they are not booking “appointments” for accepting small stuff til mid-January (can you believe it??), and the thrift shops are all full of other people’s leftover yard sale stuff…

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #13: It’s Okay to Keep Stuff

I almost gave away half my collection of vintage suitcases this week. I even offered my six vintage Samsonite overnight cases to my daughter, to use for storage. She said no.

And I was secretly relieved.

I’m glad I kept them.

Remember when I described my altered art/paper collage projects as “vacations” from my regular artwork in the last essay?

Well, I’ve stowed all the materials in my suitcases. I stacked them on one of my
rolling steel shelving units
from Sam’s Club. (Thanks again for the great tip on these, Bonnie Blandford!)

I can grab a suitcase, make a funny pink drink with a little umbrella in it, and enjoy myself thoroughly. Just like a real vacation!

They look really, really, cool, too.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #12: Love Your Inner Pack Rat

Last week, I was at a point in clearing out my studio I thought I’d never be again.

I simply could not decide what to do with certain stuff.

I know I’m not going to make a name for myself with altered art or paper collage. I know I’m never going to make pillows for my living room ever again. I could ditch all those funky old books that are such incredible candidates for altering, the old dictionaries and paper ephemera I’ve accumulated for paper collage, and the lovely home decorating fabrics I’ve collected.

But it’s hard. Really, really hard! Why??

The purging process slowed down to not-moving-at-all again, and I was frantic. Fortunately, we were social butterflies this weekend. We had so many social engagements, I didn’t have time to do more than think about cleaning the studio.

And that’s when I got my next three insights:

Vacations are important.

Those “not-part-of-my-vision” pursuits are still enjoyable. They’re totally fun, with not much riding on the outcome–a sort of artistic vacation from my major work.

Like a vacation, they don’t take up a lot of my time. I really only indulge once or twice a year.

And also like a vacation, they they get me thinking outside the box. Some of my best ideas have come from playing with new processes.

When I’m stuck on a more “arty” project, these little sidetracks often get my creative process jump-started again. Many times, coming up with a totally unrelated project for a craft book editor solves a technical problem I’m having with fiber, or jewelry.

I’d hate to kick this to the curb when it’s still working for me.

So….stay or go?

I can decide not to decide.

Neither.

That’s when I realized that it’s easier to make decisions about stuff in the attic, or stuff that’s been out of sight, out of mind for awhile. It’s harder when you’ve looked at it every day and just can’t see it anymore. (Or worse, can’t see what you’re supposed to be looking at…)

In this case, I will use the attic for what it’s supposed to do: Storage for items I want to keep but don’t use every day.

The next stage is simply boxing up most of these treasures, and putting them in an accessible storage spot upstairs.

Next spring, when my open studios are over, my book proposal is in and the weather warms again, I’ll be able to look at the stuff with a sterner eye than I can today.

I can accept my inner pack rat.

I will always be a pack rat. It’s part of who I am, and how I create art.

But I don’t have to be a passive bystander to pack rat-itis.

I can understand this part of my nature. Even embrace it. But also one I will monitor more closely from now on.

I think this is working for me.

I’ve been out junk shopping since I came to this conclusion. I’m finding it easy to resist buying the stuff I normally buy: funky books, old sewing patterns, etc. I’ve seen what I have on hand already, and now I know–I have enough of these things. (At one booth, I actually said out loud, “Luann, step away from the button jar….”

I don’t feel sad about passing over them. I’m leaving them for someone else to find and enjoy.

Until, that is, I find something so totally awesome, I just have to have it! I did buy a beautiful piece of vintage willow green velvet fabric for a new wall hanging. And a green sap bucket for a wastebasket. I’m still a pack rat by nature, after all.

The cycle will start again. And that’s okay.

Because now I know this is a cycle. It’s part of my artistic process. One that I will recognize, respect and accommodate. I just need to make sure I purge my work spaces and storage areas more regularly.

And find more friends with pick-up trucks.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip #11: Remember What YOU’VE Been Given

A reader posted a good comment to one of my essays in this series, remarking that different purge strategies work for different people. She pointed out that she makes good money from regular yard sales, and that the motivation of making a chunk of change works really well for her.

The same day, I met up with old acquaintance through Freecycle. She told me I had quite a reputation in our local chapter for “giving away great stuff”.

Uh-oh. It got me thinking….

Was I being an idiot, giving all this “great stuff” away?

I got caught up again about how much money I’d spent of this stuff. I wondered if I should be consigning this stuff, or selling it. It affected my ability to make quick decisions about each item.

And the purge process slowed down. Way, way down.

This weekend, I showed someone my newly-organized attic, with all my booth stuff stored neatly away to one side. There against a wall was my big insight.

I myself have been given so much.

I saw a set of panel walls (sort of old versions of MD Propanels, sort of like these. And a big set of Abstracta. A set of black puzzle floor mats; a shipping container; and a number of other items….

Things other artists had given to me.

It came about this way:

One year, I opted to do a sales/demo booth at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair. It was a huge undertaking in so many ways, not the least of which was designing a gallery-like setting and a demonstration station in a 600 square foot tent space.

Yes, you read that right. I had to equip the equivalent of six standard-sized booth spaces.

I needed six times the walls I normally used. Six times the display structures. Six times the lighting. I needed a way to cover the floor, create signage, create traffic flow that made sense. Additional sales staff and inventory.

It was almost insurmountable. But I turned to my community–and my friends–and asked for help.

I posted on a few forums asking for ideas and suggestions.

Several artists responded not only with advice, but with stuff.

Thank you to Jill O’Reilly, who invited me down to her studio in Massachusets, and gave me her old wall set-up, flooring, and a ton of Abstracta parts.

And thank you to Amy Peters for giving me a ton of flooring and a shipping case to store it in.

I could not have created such an incredible presence at that show without their incredible generosity and support. What they gave me was worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. And neither of them asked for a penny, unless I “felt like” giving them a piece of my jewelry or something.

So when I start to fret about giving away a $25 object, or a $50 object, or a $100, I stop and think….

So much has been given to me. It’s my turn to give back.

For me, for right now, it would feel small-in-spirit to stop that flow, to hoard what I can’t or don’t want to use, until someone pays me for it.

That’s just where I am in my karmic cycle right now.

So as my reader said, if selling your discards works for you, go for it! If you need that money to finance your next step in your dream, do it! There have been times in my life where I needed the dough, and I truly understand.

But if you find it hinders instead of helps, know this:

You could be helping someone else take that big step forward, if you can simply let it go.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip #10: What’s the Point?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, one of the hard things about letting go of something is remembering how much I paid for it.

And every time I mention that, someone suggests I sell the item on Ebay. Or take it to a consignment shop. Or have a yard sale.

I decided not to do those things. In the long run, it really isn’t worth it to me, for several reasons:

1. The time involved.

Learning to do Ebay effectively takes time. And brain energy.

Silly as it seems, I’m still not that comfortable with a digital camera. I have no idea how to upload images. I know those are skills I have to learn eventually. But stopping to learn them right now feels distracting to my de-junking mission.

Someone ran me through the process of selling on Ebay, and it’s a lot to come to grips with. I completed one auction. I couldn’t believe how much time it took up.

It takes time to decide what’s really worth selling. Time to describe each item, time to come up with my terms, time to package each item for shipping, time to run it to the post office. Time for the auction to run its course. Time to respond to customer questions.

If the item doesn’t sell, I have to decide once again whether to relist it, hold onto it again for another auction, or give it away.

I end up making lots of decisions about each individual item.

Same with a consignment shop. Time to figure out what they’ll take and what they won’t. Time to haul it to the store (usually by appointment.) Time spent determining a price. Time to haul the unwanted stuff back home, and to decide what to do with it again.

When an item sells, usually you can expect to get about 25% of the retail price (depending on its condition and desirability). If it sells. And if the store doesn’t have to further reduce the price to move it.

Whatever doesn’t sell, guess what? You have to take it back (unless you give them permission to dump it or give it to charity.)

Same with a yard sale. It takes time, time, time, to gather, tag, store, set out and sell each item. And then dispose of each unsold item.

Time, time, time. Time I’m not spending directly on my art.

Which brings me to the second reason:

2. What is my focus?

We hear over and over, what you pay attention to, will flourish. Well, I want to pay attention to my art, not my stuff.

Is all this extra time spent relocating my stuff for money really moving my business and art forward effectively?

I would rather move this stuff on and get back to making–and selling–my art.

Nicole Caulfield, the artist who walked me through an Ebay auction, sells small works of art there called ACEO. The time spent using Ebay directly helps her art business. It might be worthwhile exploring Ebay if I intend to sell my work there. But I don’t, for now.

The last reason is more subtle. But it helped me the most.

3. Giving helps me emotionally and spiritually.

The donations I made to the Sharon Arts Center “yart sale” helped them raise funds for new programs. It helped other artists who could really use those supplies. And it helped me. I got a tax deduction, equal perhaps to what I would have made at a consignment shop or yard sale.

Giving books to our public library’s book sale helps them raise money for new books. And other people get to read my books. I get to make space for new books! (Ohmigod, I can’t believe I said that!!!)

Donating to Planet Aid helps others around the world, donating to Project Share helps local kids have a good Christmas, donating to Freecyle creates good karma.

Many of these items I’ve been holding on to represent dreams I used to have. But I have new dreams now.

Letting go of your old dreams may help someone else’s dreams come true.

A friend once told me, “Sometimes when we pray, we may feel our prayers aren’t being answered. It’s because we haven’t made room for them. We have stuff blocking the way. The answer can’t get through.”

I think about that a lot. Lots of things can get in the way.

Junk. Hanging on to old dreams. Getting caught up in recouping money from our past mistakes.

Need one more reason to move it all on quickly?

Making room for your prayers to be answered may help be the answer to someone else’s prayers.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #9: Call For Backup!

Sometimes, no matter how much progress you’ve made or how strong your intentions are, you get stuck.

That’s happened many, many times throughout this process. Sometimes one thing worked, sometimes another.

This time, I simply needed another set of eyes.

Not just anybody, though. I wanted Carol. Or somebody like Carol.

Carol is an artist, too. She is kind, yet insightful and strong. She understands that some items aren’t really junk (though they might look like it to non-artist types.) She’s a good listener. She’s willing to work, if that’s what is needed.

I told her how far I’d gotten, what my goals were, and where I was stuck. She identified three key areas I could think about and act on.

1) I need work space.

I tend to fill up work space with stuff that isn’t work. Sounds stupid, but that’s what I do.

For example, my desk has all my supply catalogs on it. That makes for easy access. But it also means I can’t use my desk for writing. Was there somewhere else to put those catalogs where they’ll be accessible, but not taking up work space? Yes! I’m going to rearrange some shelves (and yes, move more books upstairs) to find a new spot for them.

Then I talked about other work spaces I’d inadvertently invaded with “stuff”. I set up nice display areas for last year’s open studios. But then I never dismantled them. Some display is desirable–I love it, and it makes the studio interesting. But if that has taken over, then no work can get done.

And I never even put stuff away from last year’s big retail show before I had to start preparing for this year’s show.

To be fair, that was the year o’ surgeries. I couldn’t put all that stuff away. Berating myself for it was unfair, and unhelpful. I was beating myself up emotionally for being messy. For buying art supplies I ended up not using. For giving so much stuff away without trying to recoup my investment.

Which brings me to Carol’s next insight:

2) I need to forgive myself.

Carol’s mantra was simple: “That was then. This is now.”

That’s who I was then. This is who I am now. That’s what I thought would work then. This is what I need to do now. I was doing okay, and now I could do better.

The actual organization of the studio was good. The layers were okay. It was piling on top of the layers that was getting me into trouble.

Guilt wasn’t working. So I set the guilt aside.

It helped. Immensely.

3) Group stuff together.

As I empty storage containers, set them aside in one corner. As I come across items that can go upstairs, group them in a spot for easy transport.

This was so simplistic, I nearly sneered. But it worked.

At first glance, we’d made little progress in our barn attic. (This space is where all my booth stuff is stored, and it’s the final repository for our house stuff, too.)

Actually we’d made huge progress. But all the clear boxes I’d bought/gathered for organizing were scattered throughout the space, making it look as if everything was still strewn around.

Once I’d grouped those in a single pile off to one side, the floor space really opened up. And I could tell I’d made a huge difference up there.

I’m using this same principle on my studio, starting today. Already I feel upbeat and hopeful that this really will get done.

So if you get really stuck, enlist the aid of someone who can get your over the hump. Someone who will not judge, someone with sensitivity and strength. Someone who really wants to see you get to that next step.

Or someone with a truck.

Tomorrow’s post will address why I’ve decided over and over not to sell most of this stuff. It’s a good decision for me, and maybe it will work for you, too.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip #8: It’s Working!

To date, I’ve only been daydreaming about the mental/emotional benefits of de-junking, hoping all the good reports are true.

Today I can say they are.

We put in a full day yesterday, slowing working on a difficult area: The back hallway. This is where Jon stuffed everything from our living room and dining (except furniture) when he impulsively decided to refinish floors without telling me first. If you need to feel good about your marriage today, you can read about that fiasco here.

It was hard because this wasn’t stuff that had been languishing in an attic for years. This was stuff we’d been living with. Okay, it’s been a year. But still. It was stuff that had been in active use.

But we chipped away at it and made excellent progress. For the first time in a year, we could walk through our back hallway again.

We even found Doug’s potting wheel (from the days when this area had been his pottery studio) which had disappeared. (He’d stowed it in the stairwell at the end of the back hallway. I don’t know why. Ask him. Good luck with that.)

Trips to the library to donate books for their upcoming book sale, boxes set out on the curb for the yard sale elves, trash trash trash. A busy day, with much accomplished.

This morning, while eating breakfast, I had a moment of extreme clarity:

I really, really really want to write another book.

It will be a collection of blog entries from the last six years. I’ve had the idea for that for awhile now, as many regular readers will know.

It seemed overwhelming, and I wasn’t getting much traction with it.

But this time I felt like I could do it. I could see it happening.

De-junk the trunk. It’s working.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #7: Get People to Come to You!

I think the hardest thing about doing a major attic/house/studio purge is hauling the stuff away.

It’s hard enough making the millions of choices: “You, you can stay. We still need each other. But you, you and you–you all have to go. I know. I loved you, and a part of me still does. But I’ve changed. We’ve both changed. We both have different needs now. It’s time to acknowledge that and move on.”

Yes, it’s like a break-up thing. Except that, once you’ve broken up, the stuff just sits there til you do something about it.

So you thought about breaking up, and then you had to go through the break up, and now you have to pack them up and drive them to the train station. Ow!

Oh, wait–that’s getting your adult kids to move out.

To date, we’ve managed to find relatively easy ways to move stuff on (Freecyle, curbside donations, and Planet Aid.)

Yesterday, I found another way to make the process a little easier. I called the owner of a local used bookstore to come and take a peek at the twenty-five remaining boxes of books.

(Yes, we managed to fill not one, but two county jail libraries with our previous donations.)

She came that very same evening, and we went through the books together. It was pleasant (she was funny and nice) and it went quickly (she knows what she wants for her store.) She was also collecting children’s books for a friend who ships them to school libraries on reservations out West. So I got to donate to yet another worthy cause. (And someone else will be doing the packing and shipping, to boot.)

We could have gotten a nice check, or store credit, out of the deal. Maybe I still will. I told her I really didn’t care–which encouraged her to take more books than she would have otherwise. Hey, if I make enough to buy just a few really nice books from her store, I figure I still come out ahead.

It helps that the owner lives fairly close to us, and could easily stop by. So this option isn’t for everyone. But you’d be surprised how many people might be willing to come to your house, evaluate your stuff and take it away with them. Some charities do it–call your favorite one and ask.

Sometimes they’ll even pay you! They’re called “pickers” and they will resell your stuff at auctions, flea markets and their booths at group dealer antique stores. Some even turn around and sell it at consignment shops. Maybe you’ve seen their ads in the classified section of your local newspaper: “Wanted–old furniture, old jewelry. Call for an appointment today!” They show up with a big van or a truck or trailer. They are ready to deal!

Obviously, if you are trying to sell items of value, then you’d want to consider the picker’s reputation. And maybe even take action yourself–go the route of consignment or auction. Mostly they want to buy cheap and fast and move on. Be ready.

But if nothing is too precious, and your time and energy are precious commodities, and you just want the stuff G*O*N*E, then why not let someone else do the grunt work? And let them make a little money in the process.

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9/11 Redux

The older I get, the more often music–the right song at the right time–threatens to drown me in a flood of poignancy.

I was driving to our state capital this morning for a board meeting, searching for a radio station signal strong enough to get me through the next 15 miles. I came across a spate of commemorations for 9/11.

One station played Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You”. It seemed powerfully appropriate. You can listen to the song here, and read the lyrics here.

Sarah is one of my favorite performers, whose emotional interpretation often wrenches my heart. This song, at this moment, nearly forced me to pull off the road.

But I was late for a meeting, so I kept driving.

I cried for miles.

I remember it was an achingly beautiful day, just like today. I remember the shock, which felt like a physical blow and the anguish as each unbearable new detail was revealed.

I remember wondering how I would talk to my kids about it. What was their legacy going to be?

It seemed they would inherit a vicious world filled with hate and terrorism. How to you teach a child to live in a world like that?

And yet something good remains behind, always. We can still choose how to act, how to think, how to flourish.

And here we are, years later, ‘still kickin” as an old Yankee friend of mine used to say. It’s another achingly beautiful day, one that makes you feel happy for no particular reason at all.

Winter’s coming, though. Oddly, now our greatest fear is that the cost of oil will soar, and we don’t be able to pay for heat. Wood pellets are already in short supply. We fear we’ll run freeze to death this winter. We may not get our new wood-fired heating system approved in time to install before the harsh winter predicted by the Old Farmer’s Almanac. (We know we’ll manage, but there are many, many people who won’t be able to.)

And I always wonder if posting my thoughts on achieving yet another birthday (my 27th 29th birthday!) seems trivial in light of our great loss on that day seven years ago.

Whatever. Life goes on. And I think the world is big enough for both threads.

Enjoy the day.

Remember.

Try to make decisions from love and strength, not fear.

Hold your loved ones close today, no matter how bratty they are. Tell them you love them.

And send me birthday cake! (Lots of frosting, please.)

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CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip #6: Help Someone Else

I’ve made a little more progress today, letting go of some really sticky stuff. Every day, I find a new way to think about each item, deciding if it stays or goes.

Books were the hardest. We love to read and reread our books, and we have eclectic tastes. Books had taken over our house.

Yet to date, we have packed up over fifty boxes of books. Yes, you read that right! (Fear not, we still have plenty of books left….)

Now, I’ve tried for several years to part with some of those books. How was I able to suddenly cull out 75% of my titles?

And what made me finally let go of a knitting machine, a camera stand with lights, a slide projector and screen? (I can just hear the little hectoring voice in the back saying, “Besides the fact that they’re all so outdated?” Hey, it’s still good stuff!)

Here’s what: I donated them to groups that would benefit hugely.

A friend works in program services at a county jail. When I first mentioned getting rid of some books, he said, “I’ll take ‘em! I’ve been wanting to beef up our library at the jail.”

It’s odd, but somehow the thought of my books being read by someone down on their luck, someone who’s taken a few too many wrong turns in life, someone who was so bored they’d read anything, someone who might think, “Hey…that was a good story!”…was compelling. And liberating. We quickly filled seven boxes of books and gave them to John. (It helps that he came to pick them up, too.)

He was impressed with our selection. “Not a single *$#!# romance, either!” he said admiringly. (Apparently people tend to donate romance novels to jails. Go figure.)

He said he’d name the library after us. Well! If that’s the case, we’d better give ‘em even more books! So we filled seven more boxes. “The Udell Memorial Library?” I suggested. “Nah, that would mean you’re dead,” replied John. Oh.

We packed up another ten boxes. Then a dozen. Finally, John said “uncle!” But he gave us the name of another program manager at another jail–who was also delighted to have our books. He even came to get them, too. We gave him fifteen boxes. Another twenty-four sit in our garage waiting for him. Hmmm…I guess that’s more than fifty boxes.

Tip: For each book, we decided if we could easily find it at the library, or if we could easily find the information on the internet, it left the building. Ditto if we didn’t want to reread it, or if we had multiple copies.

The big-ticket items were set free soon after. A dear friend mentioned that the non-profit arts center she works for was having a fund-raising yard sale soon. Would I consider giving them some stuff? I could give to a good cause, and get a tax deduction to boot. She even offered to pick up whatever I was willing to donate.

Turns out some of the items are coveted by the center itself. So maybe my donations will end up helping many budding artists and craftspeople. I found myself adding to the pile throughout the day.

There’s something compelling about knowing our donations might change someone’s life for the better.

Suddenly, it’s clear that hoarding something I know in my heart I will never use again, feels wrong. Letting it go to a good cause simply feels right.

So think of a group or cause that would benefit from your old stuff. Somehow it makes it easier to let go.

Maybe it’s part of that legacy thing I was talking about yesterday.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip #5: Identify Your Legacy

This is too funny. I almost called this essay, “Break a rule”. You’ll see why at the end.

I almost tossed a pile of ArtCalendar magazine back issues. But as my hand hovered over the top issue, I saw a blurb for an article: Summer Project:Declutter your studio/Three Easy Steps

Now, I wasn’t about to fall for that one–remember what I said about magazines promising to change your life in 7 easy steps? And this one claims only three!!

But my coffee was ready, and I thought it would be fun to read for 10 minutes.

Oh, I am so glad I did!

The article’s author is Jo Israelson, master stone carver and installation artist. She also moonlights as a personal organizer. I can’t find any information on that aspect of her, though, so you’re going to have to find that back issue of ArtCalendar magazine (April 2007). No, you can’t have mine. I’m keeping it!

Jo uses those same ol’ strategies of sorting (keep, recycle, donate, trash) we hear so often, but with a twist.

She first requires that we identify our goals for the process. Understanding why we are doing this will help us stay centered and focused when the process gets hard.

I’m at that hard place this week. Most of the easy stuff to lose is gone. I can see attic floor! But my studio is in worse shape than ever. Decisions are getting harder and harder. I’m stuck again! (A friend has offered to come help me think, but not for another week….)

I apply Jo’s techniques and suggestions–and they work!

What are my goals?

Am I downsizing? Retiring? (No.) Trying to be more organized? (Yes.) Am I making room for larger work? (Yes!) Getting ready for a studio tour or sale? (Oh, yes, yes, yes!) There are even goals of a more personal and spiritual nature, and on that list is “overcoming a block”. (gulp…yes!)

But the part that is absolutely brilliant to me is when she asks us to define our legacy goals. This will help us move through the inevitable emotional wall we hit when the initial euphoria of de-junking ebbs, and the sadness, confusion and frustration of the process overwhelm us.

In the article, she says:

“…Most artists feel the underlying purpose of their work is to communicate, often in ways they cannot articulate explicitly themselves. Collectors often talk of being moved by, spoken to or touched by a particular work. Your legacy goals will serve as the framework for the distribution of the remaining items.”

What is my legacy?

What am I really trying to accomplish with my artistic life? What will I leave behind? What do I want it all to mean?

As a good friend always asks, “What is the highest and best use of my (artistic) time? And energy?”

What clarity this idea gives me!

Suddenly, I know what to do with the knitting machine my sister-in-law gave me a decade ago (and I only used for a few months.) It was a good thing for awhile. But what it taught me is, I love hand knitting, not machine knitting. I know now someone else will use it and enjoy it more than I.

I also know what to do with the tons of old books and cool “junk” I’ve acquired for making altered art. I love my altered artwork, and I’m good at it. But it’s more a creative process for me, not my actual body of work. (It’s not distinctive enough, for one.) Time to keep enough materials to play with, and release the rest back into the world.

I have a different legacy.

I know my fiber work, my jewelry, and my writing are the gifts I’m meant to focus on, for now.

And the funny part?

One of Jo’s rules: “Do not stop to read old magazines… (Y)ou had plenty of time to do that before you began to declutter.”

Well, that’s one rule I’m glad I broke today!

Back into the fray I go, with a lighter heart.

And hopefully, an emptier studio.

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TWITTERING

I’ve just discovered Twitter. Check it out and see if it’s something you’d be interested in. Here’s a good place to find out how it works.

It’s sort of like instant messaging for larger groups of people. Or micro-blogging. Posts have to be super-short–I think it’s 140 characters. But you can post as often as you like, or need. You can follow other people, and other people can elect to follow you.

It’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s like a tiny window into other people’s world. Crafted Webmaster Nicolette Tallmadge has interesting things to say about the Twitter phenomenon. (I always find interesting things at Nicolette’s website, and I hope you’ll check her out.

I’ve already found that people who constantly self-promote themselves are kinda boring. That could be an easy trap to fall into! On the other hand, it could be a great way to create instant news or announcements to your customers and blog followers. And it’s really fun to see the smaller details in a friend or family member’s life in real time….

If Twitter is just one more thing on your plate, don’t do it! But if you have a minute to sign up and try it out, let me know how it works for you.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip#4: Magazine Drop

I’m a magazine fanatic–can’t get enough of them. I love getting stuff in the mail. Especially a pristine issue of a magazine that promises to help you change your life in seven easy steps.

I love them all: Home magazines. Art magazines. Craft magazines. Business magazines. Craft business magazines. News magazines. Essay magazines. Environmental magazines. Lifestyle magazines. Women’s magazines. I love O and W, and MSL. My secret guilty pleasure is People magazine at my dentist’s office. (“I’m not ready for my cleaning, I have to find out what Britney did next!”) (And why can’t she spell her name right??)

I pore over the articles and dog-ear the ones that especially speak to me. I drool over the photo layouts, dreaming that someday my hair/body/home/wardrobe/closet could look just like theirs.

I save magazines, going back to read and reread those same articles. If they are “how-to” or craft magazines, I keep them until the projects and styles are so outdated, they’re retro.

Consequently, I’m always drowning in magazines. As I clean my attic, I find boxes, laundry baskets and suitcases filled with magazines. Yes, suitcases. You know those stacks of vintage suitcases you see in home style magazines? The stacks that make great end tables? You’re supposed to get “extra storage” outta them by stuffing your magazines inside the suitcases? Well, do they ever say what you’re supposed to do when those suitcases are full??

Now it’s time to move those wonderful issues on to some other unsuspecting…er…deserving…person.

Sometimes I find homes for them on Freecycle. Sometimes they get stashed out in the garage til I figure out what to do with them. Then, after they’ve been dripped on, tripped over and ripped up, I haul them out to the recycling bin. (The cardboard boxes won’t hold up under those conditions, hence the laundry baskets….)

But there’s one way to move magazines on that feels a little Robin Hood-ish, a little outlaw-ish….

I sneak them into public waiting rooms.

This idea came to me after spending eons of time in our local clinic last winter. I went through an endless period of testing, follow-up testing, surgeries, surgical follow-ups and check-ups. I felt like I was spending 90% of my time in waiting rooms.

And there was never anything interesting to read.

The worst was the pediatrician’s office. Okay, that wasn’t for me, that was for one of my kids. But I couldn’t get into the baby mags (my youngest is 16) and I couldn’t even bear to look at the pregnancy mags. (And oddly, the best magazine selection was in the orthopedics department’s waiting room….. What’s up with that?!)

It was then the connection was made in my brain. Hmmmm…..dearth of magazines….plethora of magazines…yessss!

So on my next visit, I brought an armload of my own magazines. And surreptitiously left them behind.

I even snuck in a few issues of the now-defunct CraftsBusiness magazine, the on I wrote a regular column for. Self-promotion! AmericanStyle, if your subscription rate suddenly spikes, you have me to thank for it.

I know they must be appreciated, because the last time I had to wait for a doctor’s appointment, I was surprised to see they had some good magazines to read.

Then I realized they were the ones I’d left the last time I was there.

I happily settled in to reread those great articles until the nurse came for me.

Now I carry a small bag of magazines in my car, ready to leave a few behind wherever I go. I’m taking some today to my appointment for new tires.

I will bet you a silk pajama they won’t have More or Country Living in their waiting room….

But there will be after I leave.

P.S. If you worry about possible repercussions, remove your subscription label from each copy before you leave them. Although why letting bad people know I subscribe to Mare Englebreit’s Home Companion would leave me more vulnerable to a potential home invasion, I have no idea.

P.S.S. Dube’s Tire loved the magazine donation!

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Filed under action steps, art, cleaning the studio, life, recycling, recycling tip, self promotion

CLEANING YOUR ATTIC Tip #3: Curb It!

I’m guessing a lot of people are now thinking, “Why doesn’t she have a yard sale and make some money? Or sell that stuff on Ebay??”

Ebay is not an option right now because it would mean a whole new learning curve. I just don’t have the time for that. (I have too many other projects on my plate with a steep learning curve.) Most of what I’ve moving on is hard to pack, or not worth shipping.

A yard sale is out because I don’t have the big stuff that makes a yard sale a success–furniture, appliances, etc.

I also don’t have the time to spend gathering stuff, tagging it, lugging it out and displaying it on tables (not to mention hauling the tables down from the barn attic), making and putting up signs or paying to run an ad in the paper. I don’t want to sit outside in the hot, hot sun for six hours while people haul away TRASH for $5, yet haggle me over 25 cents for something really nice. (Yes, this happens all the time at yard sales.)

And then the yard sale is over and you still have boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff, and a hundred bucks in your pocket for all your troubles.

Most of all, I don’t want to sit on stuff for a week while an auction runs. Or have it languishing in the garage while I gather enough for a yard sale. I want this stuff outta here as soon as I cull it. I don’t want to have second thoughts!!

So here’s another tip on how to just make the stuff go away:

Leave it on the curb.

I learned this years ago while helping with a fund-raising yard sale. The end was nearing, and we still had a lot of crap left over. I asked the woman in charge if she wanted it packed up and hauled anywhere.

“Oh, no!”, she replied. “Just leave it on the tree lawn. It’ll be gone by tomorrow morning!”

I was astonished. But we hauled it to the curbside and left.

Sure enough, when I drove by the next day, 90% of it was gone.

I don’t know who these people are, these yard sale scavengers, nor what they do with all the unbelievably useless stuff that’s usually left over from such events. But bless ‘em!

So now when I get tired of keeping track of Freecycle pick-ups (or get discouraged by the no-shows), and it isn’t clothing (which can go to Planet Aid or local thrift shops), and when the thrift shops are full from everybody else unloading their attic junk, I just put stuff out on our tree lawn.

I put out a bunch of items last night, lined up so I could tell from the gaps when things were taken. Within a few hours, everything except a wicker bread basket was gone. (Why did they take a slightly disheveled mauve wicker wall basket from the ’80’s but leave a perfectly good bread basket? Don’t they ever serve bread to company?)

You know what was sweet? I put everything in small boxes so people could just pick it up and carry stuff. But most people just took the stuff and left the boxes behind.

Last night, I left two perfectly good white organizer shelves and they’re still sitting out there today. Uh oh. Has my luck run out?? I just ran out and restacked them so they like like shelves instead of pedestals. I’ll bet they’re gone within the hour.

P.S. Don’t abuse this privilege. If you have stuff out there every day for the summer, your neighbors are bound to complain. Unless they’re the ones doing the picking!

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CLEANING YOUR ATTIC Tip #2: Planet Aid!

Another tip for cleaning and purging your home….

Check out Planet Aid!

This organization sets out drop boxes (see photo at their website) to collect used clothing and shoes. The goods are sold to finance aid programs in Africa and Asia.

I have many charities I donate goods to. But I LOVE Planet Aid, because a) there are no hours–just drop boxes; b) they don’t seem fussy about what they get–it doesn’t matter if it’s out of season, and they are never “not accepting donations”; c) you keep good stuff out of landfills and dumps; and d) the proceeds go to programs to helps others.

I was surprised to find Planet Aid drop-off boxes in our small community (25,000). Not that Keene is that small, but from their website, it looks like they only operate in big cities. See how to host a box in your community here.

Sometimes during peak periods (end of college term, etc.) the drop boxes will fill up. You can’t leave your donations then, and that’s a drag. (Anything you leave has to go inside the drop box.) Sometimes the boxes move around and that was a drag til I learned you can call them to find out the nearest location to you.

But the short story is, they make it really, really easy to offload giant garbage bags full of your teen-aged daughter’s clothing, and that’s all I care about right now.

Can you tell that I just found out that, for the last eight years, whenever we told our daughter to clean her room, she simply filled as many garbage bags as she could with her stuff and stashed them upstairs in our attic? (I just found them today….)

Don’t delay. Call them today for a box location near you!

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Filed under action steps, art, cleaning the studio, life with teenagers, recycling, recycling tip, time management

CLEANING YOUR ATTIC Tip #1: Freecycle!

I’ve been cleaning and purging not one, not two, but three attic spaces for the last two weeks.  And nibbling away at my studio stuff. I would clean my studio first, except I have to make room in my barn attic for the stuff I want to store in my studio.

My studio is just too full. Partly from months of being unable to even unpack fully from last year’s shows (my Year of Surgeries and Injuries), partly from a kid moving into her own place (and leaving behind almost as much stuff as she took), partly because we realized we still have unpacked boxes from when we moved to Keene 20 years ago. (Oh, my….) When we moved into this house 8 years ago, it was lightening-fast, and I never got to really purge our stuff. I think we even packed and moved dirty laundry, it was that fast.

I’ve read a lot of books on the market about how to clear stuff out, and they are marginally helpful at best.

“If you haven’t used it in a year…” doesn’t take into account the stuff that can happen in a year. Just because I was too injured to decorate our Christmas tree last year doesn’t mean I should get rid of all my tree ornaments.

“Make four piles to keep, give away, to the garbage” blah blah doesn’t help, because if I could decide that easily, I wouldn’t have three attics full of stuff.

The most inspirational one I ever read was CLUTTER’S LAST STAND by Don Aslett. He gives you compelling reasons why you should move that stuff on.

I was going to say, you can’t go in the same river twice and that rereading such a book never works for me. But then I read all the reviews and I’ve decided I will read it again NOW.

Caveat: As I read the reviews at Amazon. I realized what I loved–and hated–about this book. I love that he shows how destructive clutter can be physically and emotionally. I HATED his derogatory comments about “people of size”, and cats! He is opinionated, thoughtless and ruthless. But what he says about C*L*U*T*T*E*R is gold. So read it with a thick skin and a grain of salt, and take what works for you.

Before I do, let me share another strategy with you.

I’ve got something I want to move on, but for whatever reason I don’t want to just throw it in the trash. Maybe it’s not worth the time and effort to sell it. (Honey, remember the dresser we kept taking to consignment shops and bringing it back home when it didn’t sell?) I don’t want to drive around with it trying to find which thrift shop will take it this week. (Sometimes they’re full, sometimes they won’t take out-of-season items, and sometimes they’re just really picky about what they accept.)

Renting a dumpster is expensive though it’s great for getting rid of a lot of stuff fast. But unless you’re sure everything is pure de junk, it makes it worse when you have to throw away perfectly useful items you spent good money on. Or maybe you don’t have a bunch of people with a full day or two free to go through this process. (In my case, I have to triage the process.)

Even if you throw the item away, you may get charged extra by your garbage company if you leave out too much stuff at a time, or ask them to take big items like furniture and appliances.

What’s the solution?

Let me introduce you to FREECYCLE. Freecyle can be a nice intermediary step between driving around town with bags o’ stuff in your car, and simply throwing everything out to the curb on garbage day.

My local chapter of Freecycle is Monadnock Freecycle. Here’s how it works:

I go to my Freecycle group online and post an “offer”. This is a post with the word “OFFER” in the subject line with a short description of the item. (“OFFER: 12 back issues of Bead & Button magazine”)

I can add more details in the actual message: “This is a mixed lot of back issues, in good shape, no torn articles, etc.” I can add any other information, too, such as my general location (“In Keene”) and any conditions for pick-up (“These need to be out of here within a day.”) I’ve been adding, “Please let me know when you could pick these up, as this will help determine who gets these…”

I post the offer to the group. Depending on whether people have opted to receive offers as they come in, or in the form of a daily digest, the takers start to email me.

We arrange for a pick-up time, I give them directions to my house, and voila! Soon the item is gone to a new home where it may finally be put to good use.

Advantages: I don’t have to clean or repair the item before it finds a new home, as long as I accurately describe its condition.

I don’t have to load it up on my car and then drive around for days because I forgot the Salvation Army isn’t open on Sundays, or before 10 a.m., or after 5 p.m.

In fact, sometimes I post, someone answers–and picks it up within the hour.

And sometimes I find out my item has gone to a really good cause, or to a person or family who desperately needed it.

Best of all, a still-usable item has not gone into the landfill.

Disadvantages: The no-shows: The people who swear they are coming by at 9 a.m. Tuesday–and you never hear from them again.

Or someone says they want it, and then they let you know they can’t pick it up for a week. Well, half the fun of clearing stuff out is having it GONE. So when you have to stash it in your mudroom or garage for another week, it can be disappointing.

You need a computer, though you can always use one at a library if you don’t have your own.

You also may not like strange people coming to your house, in which case you can always make different arrangements–leaving it somewhere more public, or delivering it to them, or arrange for times when you are not alone in your house.

Not everything flies out the door. I’m always amazed at what gets taken and what gets ignored. Sometimes you post the stupidest thing and you get six people begging to take it off your hands. Other times a perfectly nice item languishes. You just have to hope the right person sees it at the right time. Some days, the group doesn’t seem too active–your offer gets no response. Other times, it’s really hoppin’, and your items get dibs on them almost as fast as you can post. I’ve learned to simply wait a few days and repost with an item that didn’t go. More than that, it goes to a thrift shop–or the dump.

Oh, and another great feature of Freecycle–you can ask for things, too. I actually asked for–and got–a number of nice baby items for a friend who was expecting: A baby backpack carrier, a bouncy chair, etc. People were happy to pass these on to a new family. A couple years ago, I asked for a used bike for my son, and got two nice ones. Some people get carried away and ask for stuff like cars and houses. Good luck with that!

Anyway, it’s fun, it’s easy, and you don’t even have to get out of your pajamas. Give it a whirl! If your area doesn’t have a Freecycle chapter, maybe you can start one.

Please feel free to share your strategies for moving stuff on to other people, too.

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