Here’s a link to today’s article at Fine Art Views, LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Blessed Clarity”.
Looks like I accidentally wrote “Blessed CHARITY” instead of ‘CLARITY’. But both work.
Here’s a link to today’s article at Fine Art Views, LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Blessed Clarity”.
Looks like I accidentally wrote “Blessed CHARITY” instead of ‘CLARITY’. But both work.
A few years back, I had a vision for my next body of work. Shadow boxes are not ‘new’, but I envisioned them to display not only my sculptural work, but my jewelry, too.
I was already a box collector. (Okay, no comments about all the stuff I collect.) I had some great little boxes I thought would work beautifully, except for one thing. They were from a tool manufacturing company, and they were black with smelly oil and grease.
I showed him a stinky box and asked him if I should use shellac to coat the wood.
He suggested I clean it thoroughly instead. “But I love the waxy black look!” I exclaimed. “It’s just the smell I can’t stand.”
Patiently, Gary explained why that was not a good idea. Now I can’t remember why. But I believed him.
“Once you clean up the gunk, there are better ways to get that old dark patina you love,” he said.
“Teach me stuff?” I said, a la Susan Sarandon in that great old movie, Atlantic City (See the quote in this clip at 54 seconds.>)
And an apprenticeship was born.
For the next four months, I was a guest in Gary’s woodworking shop. We worked out a rough gentlemen’s agreement, where in exchange for small sundries and chores, I would work on refinishing my vintage and antique wooden boxes as he guided me step by step on how to clean them up, repair them and restore them.
I have no idea what Gary gained from the synergy, except for someone to yak with during the day and who happily did the shop dishes each afternoon. (Why is it always more fun to do someone ELSE’S dishes??)
But I benefited hugely. And not just in how to work with antique boxes.
And so starts a new series, LESSONS FROM GARY’S STUDIO. In fact, I got the idea because I’m setting up my new studio based on certain principles, as much as possible, that I observed in Gary’s studio.
I was going to jump right in about that. But then I remembered the first thing I learned: “Do it right.” Don’t take shortcuts. Start at the beginning, and build from there.
And so I am.
(Actually, I guess the VERY first thing I learned was, “Ask”. Ask someone who DOES know. But I don’t want everybody calling Gary to ask him for help. Although I’m pretty sure he would. Help you, that is.)
I’m struggling with a lot of issues and thoughts lately. This big move is unsettling. We know more than ever that we need to move. And we know we WANT to move. But when, and where, and what to do with a very few but oh-so-precious companions and fragile, vulnerable loved ones, confound and confuse us.
Layer that with questions about how to keep our hearts open and loving, while protecting ourselves from the people who would destroy us by gentle nibbling or explosive bites….
With the feeling that it’s truly time to dig deep into issues of compassion and forgiving, while still protecting ourselves….
Trying to let go of the people who aren’t there for us (when we were there for them) while graciously accepting help from the people who are…
Well, it’s been a bit of a jumble.
As always, listening and writing help. And actually sitting down and making things helps, too. In the midst of donating, selling, giving stuff away, it’s even more important than ever to honor my creative spirit. That’s easy to forget while working on the ever-growing to-do list.
As always, someone speaks magic words. And for a brief moment, there is clarity. Clarity that gets me through another day.
Last week, I complained to a friend that she and a very few people were helping me a lot, more than I felt comfortable with. While other people were doing very little, if anything at all. It felt out of whack, unbalanced. “But it’s your turn!” she said. I still didn’t get it, so she explained. When we reach out and help others, whether it’s helping them move, helping them with information they need, helping them by simply listening, we will “get it back”. But not necessarily from that person.
“Your good energy goes out into the universe,” she said. “And when you need that energy–when it’s your turn–it comes back. But it usually comes back through other people, not the people you feel ‘owe’ you.”
Well. That just shut me right up. I had to stop and think about it. It made so much sense. I am getting everything I need right now. And it’s coming from all over the map of my friendships, some from very old places and much from very new places.
It also gave me an insight into letting go of resentment. Friends are not a balance sheet, where I tally up what was given and what I’m owed, and vice versa. Do the truly good work you can do. Put it out there. Trust that it will come back when you really need it. In fact, as I look back, that is exactly how we’ve been helped through excruciating circumstances the last few years. (Probably forever!) Chance meetings, acquaintances, total strangers often gave us exactly what we needed, to help us take the next step. Almost every day, a miracle occurred. It still astonishes me. And now I can relax, and see them right here under my nose. (Thank you, Roma!)
Of course, being human, this heart of mine, trying to be so gentle, soon got all gritchy again. Last night, over a glass of wine, I complained to another friend that all the joy seems to have drained out of our decision to move.
When I try to remember what moved us to do this, it feels like a dream. Now, we feel dominated by the harsh realities of a job search, determining the actual destination, recognizing the costs involved, dealing with the disruption to our lives.
At the same time, I’m highly sensitive to the fact that this isn’t “awful, hard stuff”–no one is dying, no one is injured, no one is forcing us to do this. I’m embarrassed to complain so much. And our dream of California, which made so much sense a year ago, now seems a bit frivolous.
She said that when we’re in a state with so much upheaval and confusion, it can feel awful. Because it IS unsettling.
It’s not possible, nor even advisable, to think logically about the move right now. We’ll make assumptions based on information that isn’t certain–perhaps even wrong.
And it’s even more important to remember the dream.
“I think of ‘dreaming’ as light-hearted,” she said. “There’s no attachment. It’s…creative. And deeply spiritual.” She commented that all the aspects of the dream that mean so much to me–the light, the ocean, the big sky, the climate–all speak of deep connections to nature. She believes that connection is fundamental to all people, but especially creative people.
Assumptions, on the other hand, are heavy, and negative, and too attached to outcome. It is the antithesis of ‘the call’.
I realize that is exactly what this desire feels like. A call, for something we couldn’t even articulate at first. As we tried to define it, we attached certain aspects to it that made sense: More sunshine and richer professional connections for Jon. I don’t know what for me. I hesitate to even name it for myself.
But we both felt that call, before we even had words for it. Despite us trying to nail it down, make it concrete, apply logic and reason to it, it remains largely indescribable. In many ways, not logical.
And we both still yearn for it deeply, in a way that’s still hard to articulate. That moment of us discovering the other felt exactly the same way still astonishes me when I think of it.
I’ve felt this call a handful of times in my life. I answered it, every time except once. Each time I responded, my heart has grown larger, my life has grown richer.
My only regret? The time I didn’t answer.
Erika explained, telling me about Joseph Campbell’s description of the hero’s journey. There is the call. There is the challenge–the obstacles that get in the way. You must conquer the challenge. Your reward? The gift you bring back to your people. (Erika’s version was simpler and eliminated the ‘woman as temptress’ thing which is unnecessarily obnoxious for me right now.)
She gave me just what I needed right now.
I’ve decided to take a mental vacation as I work on my giant to-do list. I’m indulging in a little “California Dreamin'”. Oh, I’m still here, packing up winter clothes, clearing out a box or two, running to the library to donate yet more books. Trying to clear a space in my studio to work.
But last night, as I drifted off to sleep, I would not let myself worry. Or plan. Or even think about my to-do list. I set aside my thoughts of Doug, and Robin, and Bunster.
Instead, I thought of huge rolling waves.
A beach filled with shiny pebbles.
Golden light from a big, big sky.
A sense of coming home.
Not as silly a title as it sounds. Okay, it does sound silly.
I’ve reprinted an article I published nine years ago, and it still holds true today…
Today’s comments are in boldface.
RE-DO OF THE TO-DO LIST originally published October 1, 2004
I start most mornings with my schedule book (a student composition book with daily to-do list) and my journal. I try to start with my journal, because as I write, the process helps me sort through the to-do’s and establish real priority.
A to-do list is great for making sure you accomplish what you set out to do in a day, but they have a few drawbacks.
First, it gets cumbersome to constantly move unfinished tasks to the next day. It doesn’t allow you to easily set daily goals vs. weekly, or even longer-term goals. Everything seems to have the same urgency. “E-mail Tiffany about wings” (Note–this one TOTALLY baffled me today–Tiffany? Oh, she’s Teo now. Wings? Wha….?) until I read through.) seems as crucial as “mail past-due insurance premium.”
Also, no matter how much you accomplish, there’s always something you didn’t get to. So you never feel you really “finished.”
And then there’s the feeling that tomorrow, it starts all over again.
This morning I wondered if I instead I could view the day as an opportunity to fill certain “cups” of my life that need care and attention.
One cup, “family”, was easy. Jon and I had had a great morning. And I needed to make sure I spent time with my kids later after school. “Make chili with Doug and Robin” (they love to help me cook) and “movie night!” went at the top of my list. (You know you need to cook more often when you make a pot of soup one weekend and both your teenage children THANK you profusely….how embarrassing!)
Under “friends”, I made a note to e-mail my friend Tiffany to see if she could meet for wings and a beer (oh, those wings…!), our weekly Friday ritual. And to call another friend I hadn’t seen in a few weeks, to see if we could get together.
“Professional” cup next. “Clear a space so I can do card project for Katherine’s book”.
Breaking down “Clean the studio!” into a smaller step (“Clear a table”) was a good strategy. But I needed something else today. Life’s been overwhelming lately, and I just wondered if there was another way to look at all this.
I remembered the “Handmade, High Tech” conference (see the article CRAFT IN THE DIGITAL AGE from April 2004.) One of the speakers, Lynn Martin Graton, Traditional Arts Coordinator for the NH State Council on the Arts, talked about how differences in how language is used can reveal fundamental differences in culture.
She said, “If I want to say, ‘Warp the loom’ in Japanese, it actually translates to something like, ‘In order for the cloth to be woven, the loom will be warped.’ It’s a totally different way of viewing the action needed and the person who acts. The loom has its own importance, its own part to play. It’s not just about YOU, the artist.” (paraphrased greatly)
If I say “Clean my studio”, it’s a huge task that lies on me and me alone. I must accept total responsibility for doing that. There may be very American, can-do solutions: I can suck it up and do it myself. I can get friends to help (barn-raising!) I can hire someone else to do it, putting a value on my time and/or deciding how I want to spend my time. And my favorite, ‘you can accomplish anything–even eating an elephant–by taking many small bites one at a time.’ It’s how I’ve accomplished everything I have in the last five years, breaking every monumental task down into more manageable little steps.
But what if we’re in a place where even these strategies just seem too overwhelming?
What if we could speak Japanese sometimes? What if we could tap into an even softer, Zen, wholistic, mindful approach occasionally?
What if I recognize that, if I do my part, then the creative “thing” will do its part? What if I could trust that process?
I rewrote the task: “If the cards are to be made, a space must be cleared.” (Even better, “If the cards are to be made, the space will be open…”
It’s still the same action resulting in the same conclusion, but the perspective is different.
It’s still up to me to take the action that makes it happen. That table won’t clear itself! (Oh, I WISH!!) But now I have a partner in the process, so to speak.
I started with the analogy of a baby, but that got too labored (ouch! Sorry…) But like a baby, certain things have to happen in order for the baby to appear. Once started, the baby pretty much develops and grows on its own schedule, and appears in its own good time. But certain things have to happen, and a place has to be made.
Martha Graham’s famous quote, in part, acknowledges this: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.”
Blocking the creative act can be as simple as not making a place for it. The creative process is a dance between you (a conduit and a source of action), and a partner (the creative force that needs to appear). The result, whether its a card project, a song, a poem, a garden, a painting or a child, comes from that dance.
Once that creative thing is in the world, it takes on a life of its own. It can be seen and experienced by others in their own unique way. Some people will be inspired by it, some will be angered. Some will be moved to tears and others will wonder what all the fuss was about. That’s why the rest of the quote goes on to say it is not the artist’s place to judge it, just to make sure it gets out into the world.
So take another look at that to-do list. Look at the ways you may have unconsciously taken on more than you need to handle with your art. Start with the small but critical step of making room for it, literally and figuratively. Then step back and see what happens!
I’m off to clear a table now. (And on that happy note, I am off to help a table to be cleared.)
It’s been a wild and crazy January, full of changes, upheavals, accidents and injury. In other words, the usual life stuff.
In the turmoil, I barely found time to write, let alone come up with something cohesive enough to post.
But a simple lesson I’d forgotten about raised it’s pretty little head last week.
And suddenly, something post-able appears.
Someone asked about affirmations. Popularized by The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron, it’s a morning writing practice of stating what you wish for, as reality, here and now. It’s a way of making room for what you want, in the moment.
Now, I’ve been writing about life lessons and museum studies, hospice and art-making. And I’m very good at writing gratitude lists, where I remind myself what’s good about my life, instead of dwelling on the bad.
But I haven’t done affirmations for ages.
I wrote this morning about how overwhelmed and anxious I’m feeling about rearranging/repurposing/renovating our home the past few years. We’re expecting another, potentially long-term guest in a few weeks, and we’re scrambling to make room for her. I’m depressed about our clutter (okay, my clutter), in our home and in my studio. I’ve felt down and spongey. (Is that a word??) Maybe porous–everything coming in and wreaking havoc in my ruminating brain.
I started to write, “I am moving to a less cluttered…..”
(Yes, I stopped myself in mid-word!)
Suddenly, I thought, what if I quit writing about mastering clutter?
What if I wrote about why we’re dealing with clutter?
What if I wrote an affirmation for our home?
Our home is open to people who need a home.
Our home is open to people who yearn for companionship.
Our people is open to those who need a laugh… A Yankee Swap,
a Bad Movie Night,
a pizza and beer.
Our hope is open to us aging gracefully.
Our home is open to new possibilities.
Our home is open to animals who need a home.
Our home is a haven to people in transition.
Our home provides work and income to those who need it.
Our home celebrates family, friendship, and transition.
Our home is warm and cozy and eclectic and artsy.
Our home is filled with new projects and innovation.
Our home supports both of our vocations, and our avocations.
Our home is full of good intentions, and acts of kindness.
Our home is open to reconciliation.
Our home is full of ever-changing light.
Our home can stretch or shrink.
Our home has sheltered people for over 175 years.
Our home has weathered storms and risen above floods.
Our home holds new potential, and old memories.
Our home is a blend of the old, the modern, and the ultra-modern.
Our home is gracious.
Our home amuses people, welcomes people, amazes people and confuses people.
Our home is where our kids finished their childhood, and it’s where they come back to when things get hard.
Our home is a place where there’s always room for one more. Or two. Or three.
Our home has many sofas, and warm blankets.
Our home even has a fireplace that works–twice!
Our home has many attics and a dry basement and a good roof.
Our home can handle all our needs and desires, our ever-changing pasttimes and our hopes and dreams.
Our home can change to suit the needs we have today.
Our home has a kitchen that can hold many cooks–as long as it’s just one or two at a time.
Our home is a haven.
Our home is filled with love and wistfulness,
with love and angry words,
with love and slamming doors,
with love and reconciliation,
with love and new respect,
with love and laughter,
with love and sadness,
with love and gratitude,
with love and healing.
Our home is filled with love.
So here it is, for you, today.
A different way of looking at things, today.
Now, please excuse me while I drop of two more bags at the thrift shop, a couple to the garbage, and an errand to Home Depot for more closet organizers.
As I clean my studio, I find my solace in a blog post I wrote six years ago on August 27, 2006. (I accidentally typed “1006”–ah, yes, my musings before the Norman Conquest….)
THE BEAUTY OF STUFF
I’m a highly successful hunter-gatherer. My home and studio reflect that.
I love yard sales, antique stores, thrift shops, craft galleries, hardware stores…you name almost any kind of store and I can happily shop in it for hours. I always find something that calls to be taken home. The bumper sticker “I brake for yard sales” could have been written for me.
It helps to know I’m not alone. Quilters hoard fabric, gardeners hoard seed catalogs and flower pots. Cooks collect exotic spices or recipes or kitchen gadgets. Woodworkers have barns full of wood and tools. Want to see my yarn collection? Ya got a few hours?
We collect stamps, coins, rocks, books and duck decoys. Even thrifty folks collect coupons and grocery bags. I’m told the new collectibles are those colorful cloth bags that are supposed to eliminate the need plastic bags.
Sometimes I think I have too much “stuff”. I know I could work more efficiently if my workspace were streamlined. I know my home would be easier to keep clean if it were more spare. I know there will come a time in my life where I’ll HAVE to cut down on the responsibility of owning so much stuff. And I know my relationships with people are much, much more important than anything I own.
But I still love, love, love my STUFF.
I had a delightful conversation about s*t*u*f*f a few
daysyears ago with the owner of a flower shop here in Keene. In the Company of Flowers is a beautiful store, with lovely floral arrangements and potted plants. The owner, Mary, also offers an eclectic assortment of gifts and home accessories, all beautiful and unusual. (Note–still true!) I always enjoy browsing there and often leave with a trinket or two.
I’d just discovered a strand of unusual beads, like nothing I’d ever seen before. I could not take my eyes off them. My budget brain fought with my primitive hunter-gatherer brain, and the budget brain lost. The beads were soon mine. They sit by my keyboard even now as I write so I can enjoy looking at them. (Note–Now I have no idea where I put them.)
I asked Mary what she knew about them. She told me about the bead dealer she’d bought them from. I told her about my own bead collection, especially my strands of antique African trade beads. She told me about her collection of “kissy pennies”, antique metal pieces with enigmatic shapes. They’re used for money in some parts of Africa. “I just love how they look, so organic, so spiritual,” she said, her hands moving to illustrate their shape. “There’s something about them that moves me deeply.”
As we talked about our unusual collections, she told me the story of a good friend who had recently died. He’d amassed an amazing collection of objects. When his estate was dispersed, it was broken up and auctioned off in bits and pieces.
I made a little whimper of sympathy. No, she said. Instead of feeling sad, she felt elated. At peace. While he lived, he’d enjoyed his collection so much.
And now it was disassembled and put back out into the world. For many, many other people to see, to be collected and cherished all over again.
She said, “I’ve let go of the idea that we actually ever own anything. We just have the keeping of it until it finds it’s way back into the water again.”
What a beautiful sentiment!
There are people who claim they hate shopping, or who periodically purge their belongings. We all go through periods of de-cluttering, letting go of certain things. After all, it is just “stuff”. And in the end, we all know that relationships and people are always more important than any “thing” we own.
But being attached to stuff is NOT just a nuisance, nor a character flaw. Nor is it self-deception about true priorities or our own mortality.
Collecting stuff is a deeply human activity. It tells us so much about who we are and who we’d like to be.
People come into the world as unique individuals. We feel connection to certain kinds of things.
We accrue those things, or collect them. These items aggregate around us. We pull them from the stream.
When we die, that aggregation is released again, like a dandelion’s seeds blowing into the wind. They return to the stream. And other people find those same pieces, find joy in them and gather them. The cycle continues again, over and over, century after century.
Each collection is unique. A stamp dealer once told me that in over 50 years of selling stamps, she never met two people who collected exactly the same stamps.
Certain objects speaks to us. And they speak for us.
From the collectors of the finest art in the world to the hoarder of string and rubber bands, what we collect says something about who we are, what we fear, what we value and what we yearn for. Our stuff helps us remember a certain time, a certain place, perhaps even a certain person. Our collections can give us solace and amusement, curiosity and knowledge, beauty and joy.
Yes, there is a spectrum, as in any human behavior, from one extreme to the other. I secretly fear my kids will nominate me for the show “Hoarders”….
But it is still a process that I find heart-breakingly human.
So go ahead and enjoy your stuff. You have my permission, as my friend Diane recently gave me hers. (Permission, not stuff.)
If it bothers you, sort out whether that comes from how you feel about it or how others feel about it. If others, how much do you care? Find your own balance point between the convenience of having less stuff and pleasure it brings you.
As another friend quipped years ago, “I love my stuff, and I’m not getting rid of it! I don’t care what they do with it after I’m dead. They can burn it or give it away. They can build a pyramid above me and fill it to the top with my stuff for all I care! I’ll be gone!!”
I can still see her face lifted to the heavens as her hands formed a giant pyramid over her head….
Laurie, you go, grrl!
You can see more pics of my stuff from last year’s open studio here.
Watch for new photos from this year’s open studio soon!
Here’s a link to the column I wrote for the art marketing blog at Fine Art Views:
I hope it helps you with your next studio housekeeping chore!
Years ago, I was driving along a New Hampshire highway, and spotted a turtle by the side of the road.
My heart went out to it. So many times, you see crushed turtles on the road. They simply can’t move quickly enough to escape the rushing traffic.
Now, on the other side of the highway was a lake.
Clearly, the turtle was confused, and needed help. So I pulled over, picked up the turtle, and took it to the lake side of the road.
I was so proud of my good deed. I patted myself on the back for taking the time to help a little turtle.
Imagine how embarrassed I was to learn, years later, that I had done exactly the wrong thing.
Turtles don’t get lost.
Female turtles have powerful drives to do exactly what this one was doing. They travel long distances to a safe, dry place away from their watery home, to lay their eggs. When they’re done, they return to the water.
I had simply prolonged this poor turtle’s journey. And forced it to cross the dangerous highway again.
I read an article about our nation’s tendency to offer international aid, with good intentions. But we often neglect to let each country determine what aid it really needs. The author used the same example of giving misguided ‘help to the turtle. “Ask the turtle,” she admonished. “The turtle knows exactly what it needs.”
I love this story, though I still feel bad for my own turtle.
I had a phone consultation with Lyedie Lydecker a few days ago. With a messy studio, new projects looming, new work I want to do, small orders I need to fill, upcoming knee surgery and the resulting loss of income (I can’t do my big League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair this year), I’ve been overwhelmed with how to best use my remaining non-invalid time. I’d ask Lyedie to help me sort it all out.
She listened, which is a blessing in itself. So many people listen, but then try to fix. (I do that!) I was listened to with exquisite care.
But the best insight was how to approach my studio.
It’s such a mess, and the thought of cleaning it now is overwhelming.
Now, about our studios…. Lyedie firmly believes that our studio isn’t just a physical space to work. It’s a partner in our creative process.
She said, “Ask your studio–your beloved partner in your creative process–what it needs.
As I look over the notes I took of our conversation, I flashback to an article I wrote almost eight years ago. As I reread it, I’m astounded by what I wrote that day.
Because it echoes Lyedie’s words so clearly, it’s eerie.
I firmly believe that we already know what we need to know. Sometimes it takes someone else to tease it out of us. And sometimes we just need someone to tell us.
So how do I ask my studio what it needs? Hmmmmmm……
Someone once told me how to do just that. The universe will give us everything we ask for, she said, if we would ask the right way.
You look down and close your eyes, droopy. Then expand and stand tall. Raise your face to the sky, turn your hands out, and ask. Out loud. Ask for what you want with your whole heart. (I did it a few times, and it worked so profoundly, I was scared to ask any more. Mistake!)
Now what does that remind me of??
I realize today I’ve seen this posture before.
You can see it in the figure above, one of a group of four female figures I saw in the King Tut exhibition in Toronto many, many years ago. They are guardian figures (of Tut’s sarcophagus?), believed to be modeled after his mother. They protect the remains of her beloved son, with serenity, with peace, with gentleness and love.
So that’s what I did this morning. I entered the studio today as a supplicant, as a loving partner, eager to restore my beautiful relationship with my beloved space.
I asked my studio what it needed from me.
Because I was willing to see, to listen, to feel, to love, I heard what my studio needs.
And it was not what I thought it was. It doesn’t want much. There are no demands, no resentment, no punishment or resentment. Just a few gentle requests. All things I can manage, and all things that will return tenfold in joy.
Today, I asked the turtle.
There’s an online jewelry biz newsletter I subscribe to called Home Jewelry Business Success Tips. The site is owned and manged by jewelry designer Rena Klingenberg.
I like the chatty newsletters Rena sends out, with suggestions for trends, booth design and jewelry display. The site is especially helpful for new and fledgling designers, giving them a safe place to share ideas, designs and support.
I sometimes chime in with answers to questions, and sometimes when I chime in at length, Rena turns my comments into mini-columns. And that’s what I’m sharing with you today.
So for your entertainment and edification, I present to you my illustrated article on
what to do with a billion beads my bead organizing tips.
Some folks might well ask, “Luann, er, aren’t you supposed to be cleaning your studio today? Why are you writing an article about bead storage when you just told us last week your work table is buried under twelve layers of stuff?” Well, all I will say is our family’s favorite retort when we were losing an argument: “Well, poop on you!” (I know, my mother would be appalled….)
Lord, I hope “redux” means “revisited”…. Just checked Wiki–yes!!
It all started when we cleaned out our daughter’s old room. She came home to help. I had visions of the two of us cutting a swatch through the piles o’ stuff, filling bag after bag of stuff to be tossed, given, moved or….or….what else do you do with a 1942 manual on identifying enemy planes?
Instead, we spent a leisurely afternoon of Robin browsing through old journals, school notebooks and yearbooks. We tried on the hats we bought on family trips to Boston. (We once defused a family spat by stopping in a little shop on Newbury Street called TOPPERS. We all bought hats. Now it’s a family tradition.) Finally, after hours of delicate sorting, Robin announced she’d salvaged everything she wanted. I was free to take care of the rest. (My professional writer voice is calm and dignified. My mother voice is about to scream.)
From there, I’ve managed to keep up with my goal of removing one bag o’ stuff a day from her room, the attic and my studio. It feels like truly sisyphean task. I comfort myself by doing the math. If I keep it up, in a year I will have removed 365 bags. Not too shabby, hey?
This has all happened before. It will all happen again. (Who says you can’t learn something important from Battlestar Galactica reruns?
Sometimes it helps to know how you did it before. Other times, knowing what’s in store can add to the overwhelming nature of the task. (The first words out of my mouth when I tore my ACL the send time were, “Oh, NO, NO, NO, NOT AGAIN!!!” I knew I was in for another surgery, I knew I was in for at least six months of recovery, I knew it would be at least a year before I felt back to normal.
I couldn’t face it. But….
I did it anyway.
So today as I dig in once again, I share with you three thoughts and resources that are helping:
1) “Leave it for someone else.” Too many of my clutter–er, collecting–impulses are fueled by the thought that I’ve discovered something wonderful, and I need to save it from oblivion in the thrift shop.
But now I ask if I truly love it or have a use for it. If not, I know it will be found and cherished by someone else. So….I leave it for someone else.
2) “Would I buy this again today?” I can’t believe how much this helps me decide what will stay and what should go.
3) This website, Clutter Buster, by Brooks Palmer.
I can’t remember where the first two questions came from, but will credit them when I track the source down.
In the meantime, I need to go fill another bag.
What strategies help YOU clean out?
Happy spring cleaning!
I was wondering if it were maybe time to start clearing out again. I’d almost talked myself out of it–too much time, too much stuff, it’s spring, dammit, I want to read a book and take a nap and enjoy the sun.
But no. I browsed through a friend’s blog to another blog to another blog and ended up here: http://voodoonotes.blogspot.com/2009/03/myth-of-scarcity.html and here:http://rozwoundup.typepad.com/roz_wound_up/2009/03/scarcitya-corollary-to-journaling-superstition-4-perfect-pages.html.
Dang. Oh well. Maybe I’ll clean out some more after my book. And my nap.
And I’ll be sooooo glad when I figure out why WordPress is not letting me code my links anymore!!!
Well, I thought I was done with this series, but self-discovery continues…
I’ve heard this tip before. But when I actually applied it, it’s amazing what could be moved out of my studio.
Do you actually use what’s stored in your studio, in your studio?
Here’s a great example. I sometimes overdye the fabrics I use in my wall hangings.
I have quite a collection of dyes, special fabric detergent, dye fixer, etc. All of these were stored in a little two-drawer unit on a counter top in my studio.
During the final cleaning frenzy before my Open Studio, I realized (duh) I don’t actually dye fabrics in my studio.
I dye in an upstairs bathroom, or in the laundry room.
Fortuitously, I had just cleared out my laundry room. I knew my supplies would fit in there on a newly- emptied shelf.
So I moved it all up there. The storage unit fit perfectly on the shelf. (Another “duh”. After all, they were part of the same storage system.)
A small change, but huge in so many ways.
My dye supplies, tools, and to-be-dyed fabric are now all stored where I use them. What a time-saver!
Look around your work space. Is there something there that just doesn’t belong?
I honestly didn’t realize this was going to turn into a series…. I just meant to take you on my journey of de-junking my home, my studio and my life. A journey with odd twists and turns, roadblocks, breakthroughs and tears. An endeavor filled with brain lock, and dread, and insight and inspiration. (Geez, this sounds like a movie trailer….)
What have I accomplished?
I’ve proven to myself that I can do this. I can hunker down and really clear stuff out when I put my mind to it. (I honestly did not believe that til I went through this.)
What will this process now allow me to accomplish?
Time will tell. Time will tell.
Am I still a pack rat?
Yes! I don’t ever want to lose that. It’s part of who I am. I see stories in things. I create stories with the tableaux and vignettes I set up. Perhaps I should have been a photo stylist, or some other profession that would allow me to create little displays over and over again. But I still do it in my home and my studio.
It’s also part of my creative process. It’s a reflection of my artistic nature, and my imagination, to see such potential in the objects I find. That’s not a bad thing, unless I let it get out of control.
I can’t be “clean for clean’s sake”. I’ve learned my lesson there. If I’m afraid of making a mess, then no art will be created. My space just has to be functional enough to….well, function.
As my friend pointed out, the layers were good–it’s what I do. I create layers of fabric, layers of display, layers of meaning.
But when I start piling on top on layers, I need to either move something else on, or understand why I’m not dealing with the stuff.
I also know that there will be times where I can’t act on it immediately. If so, I can accept that, and understand I’ll have to take care of it later.
Today I got a last-minute call from a potential customer. He’d seen my work at my last retail show. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. He wanted to purchase a bracelet for his wife. Could he stop in on his way through New Hampshire?
Normally this kind of request would put me in a panic. Either I wouldn’t even be able to find what he wanted, or I’d be babbling a jillion embarrassed apologies as we stepped through piles o’ stuff.
But instead, I said, “Sure! Come on by.” He would be there in an hour.
It took about that long to break down the displays and sales tables. I put all my book project displays into one big box for storage. I set aside the leftover fabrics for Freecycle. I pulled out a selection of bracelets and arranged them on a black velvet pad.
When my visitor arrived, I welcomed him into a beautiful studio. Dense and layered, to be sure. But also organized and neat. No “understory”. Nothing stuffed into every available nook and cranny. There were even a few clear surfaces.
I was proud of my workspace, and it showed.
He was delighted and enchanted. He bought a very nice piece for his wife. He admired my workspace and promised to come again for the next open studio, with his family.
Oh. My. God.
I know this won’t last, of course. The minute I start work on a new wall hanging series, the fabrics will fly, the threads will fray, and Bunster will once again play tug-o-war with my patience. There are still a few rooms and closets in the house to go through, and more boxes of display stuff to be put away.
But I found myself sneaking into my studio today at every possible moment, to make some simple pieces, to put away a few more things, to simply play at my work table.
It feels good to be in here. It feels great to be in here.
I’d call that a roaring success. Wouldn’t you?
As I enter into the last 24 hours of cleaning frenzy (assuming I don’t stay up til 2 a.m. for the next two nights, which I’m not saying I won’t, mind you, but at my age, it’s hard) there’s one cleaning tip I come back to again and again. It’s ridiculously simple, but perhaps the most single most helpful tip I’ve found.
When I enlisted the help of my good friend Carol Laughner, the second thing she advised me to do seemed kinda silly at the time. (I can’t remember the other two right now. If I do, I’ll share those, too.)
As I empty storage containers or organizers, she said I should gather them up and set them aside, in one big pile, in an out-of-the-way area.
I nodded my head obligingly when she told me this. After all, she was helping me. I wasn’t going to argue with her. But I couldn’t see why this was one of her “big three” organizing tips.
Well, guess what? It works.
It turns out that keeping them in your line of sight as you work creates a visual distraction. I’d find my eye roving around the room, thinking of what I had to do next. I would see an empty rolling drawer cart, or a magazine file, or a box, or a jar. Then I’d have to think, “Oh, it’s empty, I don’t have to do anything with that.” Except, of course, step over it, move it out of the way, push it aside or stack it on something else.
Also, when I’d get ready to reorganize a space, I’d think of a perfect “thing” to use–but then I couldn’t remember where it was. I’d spend several precious moments looking for it. And sometimes I’d realize I’d already commandeered it for another spot.
About the eleventh time I stepped over an empty plastic tub, or searched for a basket the right size, I realized Carol was right.
I set the “empties” in a pile near the door to my barn attic. Several times a day, I took them upstairs to the “master pile”.
I instantly had more walking-around space. And fewer distractions to boot.
I could then judiciously add some of the containers back in as I needed them.
I don’t know why this works so well, but it does. So listen to Carol and move those empties to a staging area while you work on your mega-mess.
The end is almost in sight. I’ve achieved a few clear surfaces in here. And this time, it’s not because everything that was on them is stuffed in boxes underneath. The stuff is either neatly organized and stored in the attic, or G-O-N-E.
The process is easier some days, harder on others.
One consolation: There’s very little that’s pure-D trash. Most of it is saleable, salvageable, worthy of donation or recyclable.
Of course, if it’s good enough to sell/salvage/donate, it’s also good enough to keep. And therein lies the heart of the problem.
It’s easy to talk ourselves into keeping something that’s still “good enough”. Hey, maybe we really will have another baby (or somebody will), redecorate our home (in the same color scheme/style we left behind fifteen years ago), or take up weaving again (even though I hate threading the loom.)
One trick around this is to find someone more worthy.
I’ve done this by donating to good causes: Our public library’s book sale, which raises money for buying more books. (Better them than me, right?) An art center’s fund raising “yart” sale, and also direct donations to their art programs (photography equipment, art supplies.) An after-school art program. A family that makes jewelry and donates the money from sales to worthy causes.
When it comes to fabric, there’s one place that always gets the culls from my stash.
It’s a sewing program at a state prison facility for women.
I read about this group years ago. They make clothing and quilts for children in homeless shelters and babies with AIDS.
It really moved me that these women, who have made some disastrous decisions in their lives, were trying to comfort someone else–a little person–even worse off.
It’s been awhile since I’ve had enough fabric to donate, so I had to make quite a few phone calls to track down a contact. But the program manager is delighted I thought of them again. We’ve arranged a drop-off point.
Inspired again by this group, I found myself pulling even more fabric off my shelves.
Pay it forward. Find someone who could really put your unused stuff to good purpose.
And watch the world grow a little richer, a little brighter, a little more loving.
One of the biggest obstacles to de-junking is worrying you’ll get rid of something you’ll really regret later.
All of us have a story like that. One week, you throw away all your red widgets. The next, you realize you desperately need more red widgets. And they cost three times as much as what you paid for them last time.
Or you give away a wodget you didn’t use for ten years. And a week later, you think of some usage that wodget would be perfect for.
A friend once explained that phenomenon to me. It needs a good name. Like “rue-membering”.
The reality is, you’d already forgotten you had that wodget. if you hadn’t cleaned out your attic and come across that wodget, you still would not have thought of it a week later.
Or if you did find the perfect use for it, and remembered you had it, you wouldn’t have been able to find it anyway.
You remembered it only because you touched it recently.
It’s like that “persistence of vision” thing when you look at a bright light, then look away. You don’t really still see the light–you see an image of the light that’s temporarily “burned” on your retina.
Similarly, you are having a “persistence of utility” for that object.
And it creates just enough regret to slow down your purging process.
Remember that when you’re making your stay/go decisions and your supports-my-vision/distracts-me-from-my-vision decisions.
And if you find yourself still full of second-guessing, here’s a good statistic to keep in mind:
Out of the thousands of items I’ve given away in the past month, I regret giving away oh, maybe one or two of them.
And I can’t even remember what those are right now.
So crunch time is coming–my parents and my open studio event arrive weekend after this. I’m running out of time, steam, and boxes.
It helps today to remember the rewards I’ve received to date from such a massive cleanup:
#1 It got hard yesterday. So I decided to simply focus on clearing out top shelves. I figured these mostly already held stuff I couldn’t reach, so I didn’t use the stuff.
Sure enough, it was pretty easy to make decisions about those items. Including two little nondescript boxes.
One of which held $150 in cash.
I don’t remember stuffing the cash in there. I have no idea why I put it way up on a shelf near the ceiling.
But I am grateful a) the mice didn’t find it first. And that b) I looked inside the boxes first.
#2 When we found two huge bags of baby clothes, my first thought was, “I’ve already gone through those twice, I know I have. I know I want to keep it all!”
But time had worked its magic. Sure enough, I was able to let go of 90% of those baby clothes, keeping only a precious few items that really meant something to me.
And that’s when I found the handmade dresses a dear family friend of my husband’s had made for my daughter when she was 18 months old. The were the sweetest, prettiest dresses she ever had, and some of the few she ever agreed to wear. I had “lost” them for years. And there they were.
#3 I found a photo portfolio of very early work I did when I was first starting out. I just took one quick glance–time for nostalgia later! But some of the pieces were things I’d forgotten completely about. It was nice to see them again.
#4 By being brutal in some of my choices, I think I’ll have enough room to set up important new things–like the jeweler’s variable spped drill set I bought (and forgot I had) two years ago.
#5 It looks like the bag lady in my studio who hoarded magazines has finally moved out. The piles are slowly receding. I can actually walk around my studio without knocking over
anything too much.
#6 Simply because I’ve moved stuff around, I can now “see” things in my studio I haven’t seen in years. It’s a simple trick–store owners use it all the time. Move things around periodically, and something that’s sat for ages will be “discovered” by a customer–and go out the door.
I have room for more new stuff! I have some open shelves.
#8 I have made many, many people happy with my cast-offs and donations. There are people in waiting rooms around the city who will thank me for all the magazines I left for them. Someone in a nursing home is watching our donated TV. Various organizations raised money with the items we donated to their yard sales. And some people are having too much fun with all the goodies they got through Freecycle.
#8.a Hopefully, there will soon be many, many people who are happy that I’m back to work making beautiful new work and writing a new book.
#9 And maybe I’ll have a nice little tax write-off, too.
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!)
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?
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.
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…
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?
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.