beautiful things, books, garage sales, letter-writing, paper, stationery, stuff

The Life-Changing Magic of Moving

“I tried that Japanese decluttering trend where you hold each thing you own, and throw it out if it doesn’t give you joy. I threw out all my vegetables and the electric bill.”- Mindy Kaling

“Does it spark joy?”

That’s what Marie Kondo asks in her book Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and in the Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. The KonMari Method, with a revolutionary category-by-category system, promises a calm and motivated mindset inspired by determining which items in your house “spark joy.” It is not merely a set of rules on how to sort, organize and put things away but a guide to acquire the right mind-set for creating order and becoming a tidy person. By the time the suggested course of action is complete, the person is surrounded only by the things they love, a concept I found helpful last year when I moved from a four-bedroom two-story home to a two-bedroom, 760-square-foot house.

It took me several weeks of sorting, dozens of trips to a donation center, and two garage sales, but eventually I’d sifted through nearly everything in my house to determine which possessions would accompany me in the move.

Kondo suggests beginning with clothing in the tidying-up process. I went through my closet with ruthless abandon, selling or donating half my wardrobe. I was also forced to deal with the last box of my late husband’s clothing I had hidden out-of-sight in an upper shelf of my daughter’s closet. When my sister Joan offered to create something from the material, I gladly surrendered the shirts. The resulting creation of beautiful hand-crafted Christmas stockings will be enjoyed for years.

After clothing, Kondo suggests dealing with books. Because my new job was program coordinator at a spirituality center, it made sense that the majority of my mother’s religious books ended up in my work office, leaving room in her cabinet for my own. Except, I had books all over the house; filling one shelf in my bedroom, two solid oak shelves in my office, and even spilling onto my desk.

Gulp. My daughter Rachel was a great help in this overwhelming endeavor, having weeded out her own book collection some time before. “Hold each book in your hands and ask yourself if it brings you joy,” she instructed in a soothing voice. “Will you read it again? Do you love it? Do you look at it and smile? If not, let it go.”

The first time I weeded my books, I made $150 from a haul to HalfPrice Books. That encouraged me to dig a little deeper, become more discerning. Unfortunately, there was no room in my future home for my two oak shelves or desk, even  though they did, indeed, bring me joy. There was even a heartwarming story behind the desk. It was very difficult to part with a piece of furniture that seeped in memories of someone who loved me and believed in my writing.  I posted this on my Facebook page the day the desk sold:

“It’s just a desk,” I remind myself. Just a desk. Just the oak shelves I’ve loved since I’ve acquired them. Just 1000 books. A recliner. In a few days, this house I have lived in since 2008 needs to be empty, and I’m moving to one less than half its size. I’ve been cleaning, sorting, and downsizing for weeks in anticipation of that move. “It’s just stuff,” I told myself. “There won’t be room for it.” And for the most part, it’s been less painful than I thought it would be. But the desk…there’s a story behind the desk. One that involves marriage, and love, and what it is to discover a renewed relationship through cancer. The desk has remained in the same spot since I purchased it, painfully obvious now that it is gone, since the wall was painted without moving the wooden beast, and now must be repainted. Solid oak, it served as a formidable symbol of a solid marriage.

I couldn’t help the buyers carry it outside, but could at least remove the drawers to make it lighter. The bottom drawer was stuck on something. I heard a crinkling noise as I tried to free it. Feeling behind it, I gripped a piece of paper. I pulled it free, and my breath caught in my throat. For a moment, I couldn’t breathe. It was a sheet of personalized stamps I’d purchased before David died in 2012. I suddenly wanted the couple, and the desk, out of my house as quickly as possible. I wanted to be alone, to cry. 

But I don’t need the desk to remind me of what I once had. I hold that memory in my heart.

stamps

Despite having to give up some furniture I would rather have kept, there was never a doubt that my parent’s cabinet was coming with me, even if it had to be in my bedroom, which is exactly where it ended up.

cabinet
The original contents of the cabinet were mostly things of my mother’s, very few of them sparking joy, outside of a few pieces of funky vintage dishes in a pattern I loved just as much as my mother had. I offered other pieces to family members. I eventually weeded my books down to those shelves in my office at work and this cabinet in my home. These books were the keepers out of thousands.

If you’re an author reading this and your book remains among my signed copies in either location, then count yourself blessed. Your work survived the great purge of 2018. What we won’t discuss is the growing pile of books next to my recliner. Old habits die hard and somehow, despite my good intentions, more books seem to be finding their way into my home.

Which brings us to Kondo’s last category, which happens to be my biggest downfall; that of paper. As I prepared for my move, it soon became obvious there was not going to be enough time to sort and organize all my paper “stuff.” I did manage to sift through years of report cards, greeting cards, letters, children’s drawings, and other miscellaneous paper items, shredding and burning many documents. Most of what I moved with me is neatly organized in the bottom shelves of my cabinet or a compactly filled trunk. The cabinet holds my journals, loose photographs, my mother’s Memory book, high-school annuals, five binders filled with clippings of thirty years of writing, candles, and a lovely decorated box with David-related memorabilia, what my children once called my “sad box.”

The trunk holds letters, children’s drawings, my mother’s original book manuscripts, greeting cards, and other paper paraphernalia I can’t bear to part with and I’d like to organize in a manner they can be enjoyed. It would have taken me weeks to give the letters the attention they deserve for de-cluttering and organizing purposes so most of them moved with me, though I did sort through some of the greeting cards, disposing of those that had no personal note inside. I have a box filled with letters my mother had written my grandmother in the 1960’s. Someday, I want to scan them and share them with siblings. Another box holds letters I’ve received from loved ones throughout the years, including my mother, and even a couple from my dad. My goal is to eventually sort them by year and file in binders.

One of my most first purchases for my new home was an addition that definitely sparked joy; a drastically reduced rack I spotted at Hobby Lobby, where I store my still-plentiful supply of stationery and greeting cards.

stationeryI wonder sometimes what this process would have been like if it hadn’t been done by necessity (a move to a smaller house), but by desire (for a more tidy space). I suspect it would have been more enjoyable and less stressful. I also suspect I would have kept more things, and had fewer regrets. Would the day-books have survived, and the decorated lab coat remnant from my high-school Advanced Science class have been burnt instead?

The daybooks were not journals. I’ve kept those. No, the daybooks detailed the minutiae of a busy mom’s day; 98-degrees and humid… went shopping and saved $48 in coupons… sent four letters…went out for breakfast with David… four more days until my due date…

And the reason behind the decided disposal of them; what I did not want to leave as a legacy, too many  hastily-written entries along the lines of “I’ll go stark-raving mad if I don’t get one minute to myself. Is it too much to ask to be alone in the bathtub?”

The daybooks. My mother’s table. The desk. Those beautiful oak shelves and the leather-bound books I’d collected. Whenever I feel a pang of regret, I remind myself they were just things.  Things that did not aways spark joy. The short matching chairs that came with my mother’s table caused leg cramps and my desk collected clutter. I did the majority of my writing in my recliner, which most definitely accompanied me to my smaller house. The shelves were extremely heavy and the leather bound classic books looked pretty, but I’d never even read the majority of them.

As for my vices of paper and books, I’ve discovered a bonus to living in a larger town. There are stores, like TJMaxx, that sell lovely legal pads, and a bounty of thrift stores where I discover things like this small shelf with three basket drawers, baskets that are just the right size for…

…you guessed it…paper.

Marie Kondo would not approve.

beautiful things, books, faith, stuff, things

A few of my favorite things…

I begin every day in my office, even those mornings I need to rush to get to my workplace. I sit in my recliner, my book lamp on, a cup of coffee sitting on the end table where I keep my Bible, a devotional and writing materials.

bookshelves.jpg

I can look in one direction and see my beautiful oak bookshelves filled with a few of my favorite things. Next to it, the St. Michael the Archangel wood carving I inherited from the man who bought it from my mother more than forty years ago. It sits on my grandmother’s trunk that is covered by a quilt my mother handmade for me. Each day, I gather strength from the visual reminder of God’s promise in Psalm 91:9-16
“For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone. You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet! The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.”

st michael.jpg

In the other direction, on the wall near my desk, are decorative and inspirational wall plaques, reminding me to dream and explore.

wall.jpg

I’m never sure if it’s the surroundings, the gift of silence, or the coffee that jump-starts my day. It might be the combination of all three. But it is in this space, this haven, that I do my deepest thinking and my best writing.

For the majority of my adult life, my purchases were mostly utilitarian, and nearly always second-hand. Raising a large family meant operating on a tight budget. It wasn’t until I began conducting workshops that I needed to invest in some nicer clothing for myself. It was around that same time I developed a penchant for jewelry. Not high-priced diamonds or expensive gold, mind you, but dangly earrings and long chains with meaningful pendants and charms or steam-punk style; keys, gears, feathers, butterflies. I still enjoy that style of jewelry and since Christmas, thanks to my daughter Katie, I now have a way to display it.

jewelry

After my husband died, the purchases of “stuff” got out of control. Still not of the fur, diamond and gold variety, but everywhere I went I was picking up books, stationery, jewelry, inspirational wall plaques, and clothing; anything to fill the gaping hole in my heart. Of course, it didn’t work. Nothing would fill that gaping wound.

The binge-buying was financially unhealthy, but my urge to surround myself with beauty and inspirational messages was not. Many of those items from that period of buying still bring me joy; the jewelry, the stationery, a butterfly pillow, and those inspirational plaques and pictures on my walls.

Author Alexandra Stoddard is convinced our surroundings can nourish us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

“The home is the center of your soul; it’s a total reflection of your inner life. If you have a dreary home, it means you are dark inside,” she wrote.

Possessions aren’t all bad. Our desire to surround ourselves with beautiful things is natural. God decorated our skies with stars and rainbows, peppered our hills with budding flowers, and filled our pastures with bright green blades of grass. An artsy plaque with an inspirational message on our wall or the soft glow of a lamp in the corner of the room can be soothing to the soul. My home office is full of such things, and my favorites are hand-made; my mother’s wood carvings, my daughters’ paintings and drawings, the painted brick books one daughter made, or wooden letters that spell out the word “WRITE” that another daughter crafted with the cover designs of my books. My book lamp, a handmade quilt on a trunk, and solid oak bookcases filled with books; these things make me feel as though I am surrounded by warmth and beauty.

What about you? What are a few of your favorite things?

stuff, things

Lovely Things and Thoughts

I stopped at a Goodwill store after a speaking engagement this week, and was enchanted by these plates I discovered:

Even though they were priced at $1 each, I couldn’t resist their beauty. When I got home I decided to store them in the shaker-style cabinet I’d inherited from my mother. Lo and behold, they match two of the pieces my mother had owned.

No wonder they’d appealed to me!

Another lovely thing I added to my house this week was a bench my sister was selling at her garage sale. How could I resist? I’ve always wanted a bench.

I put it in my entryway where my trunk (also inherited from my mother) had been, which necessitated moving the trunk in front of the couch. Of course, in moving it, I had to look inside, and there was the bag I used to keep all David’s “Get Well” cards after his heart attack, and the sympathy cards after his death. I spent a good hour going through them again. I couldn’t bear to look at the birthday cards he never got to see, the ones that had arrived on the day of his death, as well as the next day, his birthday.

I wonder if his family knew how much the birthday cards meant to him; he kept all of them on the kitchen table where he could see them for a few days, and especially loved the ones with a corny sense of humor. Those he held onto for a longer time, propping them up on the dresser.

Think about that the next time you think about sending a greeting card or a letter to someone you care about, and then decide to send an e-mail instead.

An e-mail is nice, but you can’t store it in a trunk to take out six months later, or prop it on a dresser.