Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Delays and Stuff

AFTER the coast, the next stop is my parents' house, a convenient waypoint on my journey south.  My family greets me with open arms, even though my arrival happens at a less-than-convenient time: my dad, brother, and nephew are preparing for a week-long Boy Scout camping trip.  Tensions are high, stuff is everywhere, and here I come with a bunch of stuff of my own.

When I said I had all my stuff in my car, I was exaggerating.  I had the last of my stuff in the car, but my sister already took a station-wagon-load down to my parents' house for me, and now it's all sitting in the middle of the garage.  Before I left Portland, I got rid of tons of furniture and books and CDs and pretty much anything else I could bring myself to part with, which turned out to be quite a lot, but the remainder is... disappointingly bulky.

My parents have very generously offered me attic space to store everything I'm not taking with me. So now my task is to sort out the stuff I'm storing from the stuff I'm taking, and to box up the stuff-to-be-stored and squeeze it into my corner of the attic. And this is, inexplicably, impossible.

I don't understand it. I just performed a series of superhuman feats, involving contractors and repairmen, extremely adhesive linoleum squares, enthusiastic friends, and lots and lots of paint! I just let go of a bazillion excellent possessions! I just managed to transport all my remaining things to another town! I am clearly unstoppable! And I have space and time to work in, everyone is being so kind and accommodating, someone else is preparing all my meals, and... nothing is getting done. I am grasping at every distraction, I'll get to it in a few minutes, just as soon as I get done with these other things, oh no the day is over, guess I'll have to work on it tomorrow. Like that, days slip by.

So I ask my host at my next destination: I need a little more time. Is it all right if I come a day later? Saturday instead of Friday? And the answer comes back, We're leaving town for the weekend, how about Monday? Sure, I say with relief. Monday's great.

But on Sunday, it really looks like Monday will not be so great. Even though the campers and their gear are gone now, I still have so far to go. Worse, fatigue is descending like the Sandbag of Damocles, so heavy that I can't even draw on eleventh hour adrenaline to get the job done. I was warned there would be payback for the stresses and postponed emotions of the past month, and I suspect that time has come. I send another e-mail to my host: Sorry, but would Tuesday be all right? and then I tumble into bed, hours earlier than usual.

I sleep for nearly 12 hours, and when I get up there's a reply: Tuesday's busy for us, you should come Wednesday instead. Ahahaha. Time is on my side again. So I return to the unpacking-sorting-repacking with a will. My progress is slow, and I am still easily distracted, but I am finally reaching the bottom of the heap. And I have a lot of time to think about why this is so hard.

1. It's hard because so much of the hurriedly-boxed-up clutter I brought from Portland represents unfinished tasks: contact info for people I was supposed to contact, papers I was supposed to file, comics I was supposed to finish drawing, clothing I was supposed to mend, items I was supposed to give to specific people -- and going back through them, I have to decide over and over whether to seize this one last chance to follow through, or write it off as a failure.

2. It's hard because a lot of this stuff, I don't even want to keep, or at least not in this form -- I don't want boxes of unsorted photos, I want them all scanned and backed up online; I don't want archives of paper memorabilia from past years, but I want to go through them all one last time and take notes -- but of course, I don't have time to take on projects of that scale now.

3. It's hard because I didn't really have time to get everything all sorted out back in Portland, and now just when I think I've got, say, all the photos boxed up, I find another cache of them in an unexpected corner, and then there's no room left in the existing boxes-designated-for-photos.

4. It's hard because I feel (irrationally) like, after all the stuff I've gotten rid of, I shouldn't have this much left. At this point in my progress, I envisioned I would have shaved my possessions down to the essentials so I could brag about my minimalistic lifestyle. ("It was easy to let it all go," I would tell my rapt blog-audience. "The hardest part was deciding to do it.") Reader, I will not be bragging. I will have too many boxes in the attic and too much crap important stuff crammed into my car to turn up my nose at anybody. The stuff, it clings.

5. And, honestly, it's hard because I'm clinging to the stuff.  The stuff and I, we are two halves of a velcro fastener. I'm packing up the last remnants of a decade's worth of life, and on some level I'm feeling fairly insecure about this whole mad scheme, so I'm dragging my feet.  Everything up until now has been something I could get my head around, but beyond this point is Uncharted Territory.


  1. Time and more time, stuff takes so much time! Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez in their book "Your Money or Your Life" have a great chapter interpreting money and stuff as hours of "life energy". Putting things in this context, similar to your experience above, has made Tammy and I much more cautious of what items we bring into our lives.

    Folks always ask us "what was hardest item to give up when downsizing?" We used to answer "the car", but now I think we may adjust that answer to "the time and emotional regret it took to reconcile our stuff responsibly". Folks assume that we had a big weekend purge and de-junked our lives, when it reality it took us about 5 years to give-away, sell, and digitize the furniture, sports-equipment, tools, books, photos, paper files, clothing, kitchen stuff, etc. You've only been at this for a few months right? Don't be so hard on yourself. See this as a lesson to learn from and remember that all transitions are stressful. Its wonderful that you have some family support during this time! Wishing you the best Lindsey! Cheers, Logan.

  2. Thanks, Logan! That "5 years" number is encouraging. I actually started this process well over a year ago, but yeah, I still have a long way to go. In some ways I'm sorry to be putting the remainder into storage now, because with more time I could pare it down even further... but when I get it all back out again, I suspect the paring-down will be much easier.

    P.S. I'm not really being all that hard on myself. :)

  3. Cool. Good to know. Yes, time away from stuff will always put it in perspective. In that YMOYL book the second chapter is doing an inventory of your stuff. We gave the YMOYL book to my mom and she couldn't get past the second chapter because she had so much stuff that doing an inventory seemed like an impossible task! At least you are past the overwhelmed "impossible" to know how much you have phase. That is a huge step itself. :)

  4. Funny. I had a good laugh. The lazy person's approach is to just die and let someone else deal with all your stuff.

  5. On the plus side, the stuff is unlikely to mind being incomplete while your priorities lie elsewhere. If only bank accounts and credit cards were so accommodating...

  6. Thanks for sharing your endevors with us. I am sure you are about to have an adventure of a life time

    Jessica~ your mentee :)

  7. Ha ha! How often I have walked that path- and meandered all those annoying, clinging obstacles- emotional and practical. And the cycle does repeat, each time a little easier, but nevertheless leaving me asking - OMG, don't you have this down YET? But, oh, did I mention the whoohahaaa moments of adventure that you get in return once you have cleared that additional space in your life? SO WORTH THE EFFORT, in my humble but experienced opinion ;-). I envy the magical blast that is ahead ( and happening now, even if you don't completely see it ).