Monday, January 16, 2012

To Don’t List

I had an interesting revelation this weekend.  But I’m not going to write about that first.  First, I’m going to write about my weekend.

It was four days long.  Four!  Practically a vacation.  I consider myself pretty fortunate to have a 3 day weekend every week now, although I give up a little bit during the week with the 10 hour days + commute time.  (In other words, that “extra day” ends up being a catch up day.)   But the addition of the extra day off for MLK day – plus our lack of any particular plans – made this weekend feel luxuriously long. 

With the extra time off, I tackled a project that had been on my mind for awhile – the guest bedroom.  I love decluttering and organizing projects, but I always get overwhelmed at the time they take because I’m a notoriously slow decision maker.  There’s nothing worse than getting half way through it and having to stop with the entire content of your closet or attic or desk drawers spilled out on the floor.

Where I usually end up leaving it for another month or two.   That always goes over well.

But this weekend, with 4 days off, I dove in!  This closet has become a bit of a catch all – the place where I store my dresses and Matt’s suits, craft projects, things that I need to put on Craigslist or eBay and a whole host of other assorted things that just haven’t found a proper home.  I just hate the feeling of owning too much stuff – I call it stuffocation. 


I pulled EVERYTHING out of the closet first.  Then I immediately texted Jamie (the queen of organization) that I was already panicking.  She diligently sent me positive reinforcements throughout the rest of the project. 


I tried to use the gauge “Do I love it? Or does it add value?” to decide whether or not to keep things.  (I think I got this from the Zenhabits blog, but I read a lot of books and blogs on simplifying so I’m not totally sure.)

I quickly figured out my trouble zones:

1. “Potential” clutter: things that I might use “someday” or, notably, crafts that I am wanting to do or things I am holding on to because they would be good eBay items and I just haven’t had the time to get them up yet.

2. Sentimental clutter: things that I don’t regularly use anymore but they have sentimental meaning for me

The sentimental clutter I am getting better at.  I read a tip one time to take a photo of the item (I think, again on Zenhabits?) and that has worked well for me.  Good-bye, wedding shoes.  You are dirty and don’t really even fit that well, but every time I see you I am transported back to my absolute favorite day of my life.


Ditto good-bye Spain boots.  You also don’t fit very well and the leather is falling apart, but I put you on and I can picture cobblestone feet under my heels, walking to Fundicion with my friends for a night out in Sevilla. 


It was a challenging task but I stuck with it.  When all was said and done, my closet was actually not quite as empty as I had hoped – but it was a lot better then when I had started.  I had a huge bag of clothes to go to Goodwill as well as a stash for Dress for Success.  I forced myself to sit down and eBay the items I’d been holding on to – or put them into the Goodwill pile if I realized they weren’t worth my time.  I created one small Tupperware to start collecting items for this summer’s yard sale (and in a moment of genius, priced them as they went in.  You’re welcome, Future Meghan.)


It took me nearly all of Saturday, one large diet coke, the Glee cast Pandora station, maybe a small temper tantrum and a few hours of eBaying… and I was left with this.


I’ve got one item I’m stuck on…. I inherited this awesome Kodak camera from my Grandpa and it’s been sitting in the closet ever since I got it.  It’s not in working condition, but I’d love a way to display it… anyone have any great ideas?


It felt good to tackle the closet, and I actually carried my energy into some other productive tasks this weekend.  I tackled some binders that I have in our bonus room that were full of magazine articles. For years when I was personal training, I used to rip out workouts and recipes out of magazines and file them in 3 binders with clear plastic coverings.  I haven’t touched them since I stopped personal training in 2008, but there they have sat – once again, a source of “potential clutter.”  (“What if I return to personal training?”  “What if I want a workout for myself?”)  I didn’t get rid of all of them, but I managed to reduce 3 binders down into 1…. progress!

Then I was on a roll… I was a woman on a mission.  I rolled up my sleeves and did something I’ve been putting off forever.  I opened the binder where I’ve been filing Matt’s (deferred) loan statements.  We went through them and figured out how much each one of them were and what our repayment plan will be come end of residency.  It wasn’t a fun project by any means, but it was a huge source of mental clutter for me to know what we were facing in 6 months.

Before this starts sounding like an unhealthy amount of productivity, I’ll also note that I had a fairly equal amount of relaxing this weekend.  I slept almost 10 hours on Friday to Saturday morning, and woke up to find my husband had already gone on a run…and stopped at Starbucks on his way home with a treat for me.  Major brownie points.


I dragged my lazy bum out of bed to go meet Jamie at dance trance on Saturday morning, before tackling the closet project.  I took a break from said project to have dinner with Matt and my sister, who had driven up from Charlotte to see me.  We’ve decided 80 miles is too far away and she’s moving to Winston.  Okay I decided that.  She has yet to agree.


I took naps.  I read a book.  I made soup and ate soup.  I caught up on my Google reader.  I went to a coffee shop and blogged.  I took walks.  Short ones – it got cold.  I slept in.  We met Zac and Jamie and little baby Z for wings on Friday night. 

It was an amazingly wonderful long weekend.  It was relaxing, it was fun and it was productive.  It felt like a vacation – the perfect unwinding from a whirlwind last few months of tailgates, travel and holiday fun. 

So here was my revelation.  I got a ton of things done this weekend that had been bouncing around in my head.  And yet… it hit me, sometime around Monday night that I still had so many things I wanted to get done.  Other closets I want to clean out.  Projects I’ve pinned.  Recipes I want to try.  Blogs I want to write.

I was happy as a clam mid-project.  I lost track of time and I enjoyed the process.  But when it was over, instead of basking in the satisfied glory of a job well done, my mind was already racing on to the next thing.  Kind of like my last blog – even my to do list is subject to the arrival fallacy.  Once I realized this, I had an almost immediate switch.  This little voice in my head went “Oh.”  “Oh!”  If getting so many things off my to do list this weekend didn’t make me feel as satisfied as I thought it would … maybe I should stop worrying about when I’m going to do on my to do list.   Stop worrying about when I’ll get the blogs written that are bouncing around in my head.  When I’ll ever have time to do all the beautiful crafts I see on Pinterest.  When I’ll get to try all the recipes bookmarked in my cookbooks. 

What if I just did what I felt like doing in that moment?  I mean, other than the obvious have to do things – keeping my house running with food in the fridge and clean clothes in the drawers and bills paid and making sure the dust bunnies don’t become so big I can claim them as dependents on my tax records. 

I’m always carrying around this thought that “I’ll feel so satisfied when I completed XYZ project.”  This weekend – where I completed multiple XYZ projects and yet didn’t feel that sense of “relief” that I was done – was a smack in the head.  I’ll still do projects.  I’ll still cook delicious recipes I’ve bookmarked.  I’ll still tackle that other guest room closet (one day.)  But I’ll do them when the moment strikes me that it’s right to do them, instead of always trying to figure out when I can squeeze them in.  And maybe, maybe I can focus more on the enjoyment of those moments and start letting go of the running project list in my head and the fallacy that I won’t be satisfied until I get them done.


A Glenn said...

Dude, you totally got me. I agree with you 100% that I need to stop stressing over these silly to-do lists that just weigh me down sometimes. It can be cathartic to check those things off your list, but you're right that more just keeps getting added on! I like this whole "live-in-the-moment" attitude you've gotten lately, I need to follow your lead! Now if you could teach me how to stop over-scheduling...I'd forever be in your debt. xox

Meg said...

A, before you get *too* impressed with my new found zen like mindfulness keep in mind that this is just the perspective I am aspiring to have! I found myself relapsing even today, thinking of everything I "wanted to get done" this upcoming weekend. But it was a total aha moment to realize that happiness doesn't arrive the moment I check things off the list... so I should maybe stop worrying about when I will check things off the list. Keep me in check with my new found attitude and I'll try to keep you from overscheduling... although we both know that's an uphill battle! ;)

Mandi @ Southern Gnome said...

I decluttered our spare bedroom this past weekend too. Also, not as much as I would have liked after all was said and done, but a lot did get gone. I need to go back thru my craft stuff and scale down again, but I think I'll take your approach and wait till the mood hits. Then I will be good and ready, probably get rid of more and not be rushed to just get it done and check it off.