Monday, July 16, 2012

The Complications of Simplification

A couple of months ago I decided to clean out my office closet. I had avoided it for far too long. I had even avoided putting this chore on my task list. If it wasn't on my task list, it didn't officially become one of my unfinished tasks. I couldn't procrastinate cleaning out the office closet any longer.


I don't have a problem getting rid of things I don't need or use. I don't keep things just to keep them, but I tend to keep things that have some sort of meaning to me.  I regularly get rid of other things I come across that I have no use for. What I don't do as often as I should is set aside time to actually go through cabinets and closets to discover unused items. If I happen to see them, I'll take care of them. Otherwise, items are likely to hang around until they're in my way. I mean, really, who has the time? I have way too many projects going on to dedicate time to sorting through stuff, doesn't everyone?

Mostly I file things away that I need for the short term and then forget to throw them away. There are other things I keep because they have sentimental value. It's a little bit amazing to me how much stuff accumulates even when I try to keep my purchases to only necessities.


I started with my office closet and moved into my office because it quickly became clear the two required simultaneous purging and organizing. Three weeks later, I had made decent progress on a project I had scheduled about a week to do. Three weeks later and I'm still shredding papers a little at a time. That's what happens when I play avoidance games with chores I dread doing.


I was inspired to move the process into the rest of the house. I began simplifying my life several years ago, so    the amount of unused stuff I found in my office made me feel a little ill. The trend followed me out of the office and into other rooms in the house. How could I have accumulated so much stuff I never use? Could other people make good use of some of this stuff? What did all this stuff represent?


The other night it hit me, the problem with purging isn't the stuff. It's the memories attached to the stuff. When I start handling certain papers or trinkets or or photos or whatever, I start to remember this moment and that moment. Pretty soon I find myself lost in nostalgia with things stacked around me. I feel overwhelmed. And, then I realize I've put all these treasures in with stuff that is meaningless. One thing that has become clear to me is that anything that's origin I can't remember has no meaning, and it's time to let it go.

As a writer, I often keep things that I think will be beneficial to my writing. I keep trinkets, maps and brochures of places I've visited. I keep touristy items that I think will spark a memory. I keep pictures of things that mean nothing to anyone else. I even keep research material I could easily look up on the Internet. I decided as I purged this time to let go of much of that stuff. I realized the important memories are in my head. I don't need keepsakes to remember them. They live inside me. They are part of me. That's what memory does. Somehow as I looked through the stacks of prompts I'd accumulated, I realized the greatest prompts come from my heart and my mind instead of from the prompts I'd filed away and never even looked at. Those were the memories that populate the poems in my book, Memory in Silhouette: Poems.

I've never considered myself particularly materialistic, so I'm a little disappointed in the comfort I've taken from being surrounded by things. The accumulation of stuff somehow gave me the illusion of having achieved something, but in truth it only obscured the real achievements in my life. Those achievements are about what I've created and who I've become and no amount of stuff can ever equal that.

I am determined to live a simpler life that doesn't focus so much on material possessions but focuses on finding fulfillment and seeking a sense of achievement through my contributions rather than consumption and accumulation. Strange how I've thought I was doing that for the past several years, and only recently realized how much I still clung to my possessions...

Still, there are belongings that go where I go and have for as long as I can remember. Don't ask me to part with them today, tomorrow, ever... It won't be happening...

And so the process of simplification tends to be surprisingly more complicated than it sounds...

2 comments:

  1. So true. With my children it becomes even harder. Sometimes I take pictures of the things I or they can't bear to part with but we know we don't really want to hold on to any longer.

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  2. That's a great idea! I guess I've done that a few times but not very often, usually for things like flowers that die quickly. I don't think I've photographed things with "intention" when letting it go, but I love the idea! Thanks for sharing it!

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