I’m in the midst of Iteration 3 of getting rid of stuff, and I expect at least another 4 Iterations before I finish. As of yesterday, I had disposed of (at least) 517 items. I only count the ones that can be easily named and/or I might wonder about what happened to them later. Before I began this project — while I knew that I felt oppressed by way too much stuff — I had no idea just how much stuff I owned. Approximately 3/4 of which … I haven’t been using; don’t want to use; will never use.
Getting rid of everything that isn’t useful (by a generous interpretation of ‘useful’) . . . seems cold and utilitarian, not qualities I aspire to. However, I think it’s also pragmatic, which I do aspire to.
I’m a conceptual artist, so almost any item can be either a material or tool. But if I’m surrounded by a whirlpool of materials and tools, there’s far too many to discern which ones I actually want to associate with. By gleaning the ones I’m excited to work with, surely I can create better art.
I couldn’t figure out how to make a go of my editing business, but I edit out extraneous ideas All Day Long. It’s kind of exhausting.
I also feel the undertow of ideas and characters that want and need me to write about them. So far I haven’t been able to . . . reach them. I think because they’re so many layers of detritus between us. Nothing even bubbles up. I need that to change. I need to write what needs to be written.
I need to create what needs me to create it.
I have frequently purged many items, most often books, as I close chapters in my life. But before the last few weeks, it had never even occurred to me to . . . evaluate everything I own. Not just to decide if I want to keep it (although I’m doing that too), but . . . consider what I want my life to be, kind of from scratch. Stop kludging crap together from 1001 different periods of my life and different projects (most of which failed).
Last week I found myself telling P how our move to Maryland 6 years ago was super stressful, so much so that, on the day the movers were unloading the truck, I was huddled in a dark empty closet, desperately trying to block out all sensory stimulation. Which meant that only Spouse was available to direct where the boxes and furniture were disposed. And all sorts of things that didn’t belong to me, that I didn’t care about at all, ended up in my studio . . . as kind of a catch all area for everything no one knew what to do with. I said organizing my studio effectively never really recovered from that. It took me weeks to physically recover from the move; it took me months, maybe a year, maybe more, to unpack all the boxes and figure out where the stuff should go.
The really interesting insight I had, last week, was that my self has been treated exactly the same way: as a catchall, a vessel, for memories and emotions and other things that no one else wanted. No wonder I’ve had such a hard time figuring out who I want to be, when the parts that are truly me are vastly outnumbered by all the parts that aren’t.
Seeing as how my studio and my self seem not just metaphorically linked, but perhaps metaphysically as well, I’ve been considering what to get rid of from an entirely different perspective. Because I’m not just discarding stuff this time. I’m reconceptualizing what is possible for me, and my studio, from the bottom up.
What do I actually want? What excites me and delights me? What can I not wait to work on?
Let’s optimize that. Let’s promote growth from those core interests. And let’s invite serendipity to work its magic from the center of my higher self.
I’m rediscovering how useful it can be to assess all sorts of items and ideas before deciding if they fit my new worldview. There are so many things I can think flexibly about, I can imagine making use of. I’ve been doing that — imagining all sorts of possibilities.
And then saying no to 90% of them. Saying No is my new favorite pastime. Just because something could work doesn’t obligate me in any way. Coming from generations of hoarders, this is a very strange and unsettling idea.
More than once, I’ve found an item (usually furniture) that could radically reorganize everything, often in novel and satisfying ways. I’ve imagined those ways as best I can. I’ve integrated them into my larger concept.
And then I’ve decided . . . I don’t completely love them, so I’m going to pass, for now. This exercise is stretching my comfort zone. I like it.
I’ve reorganized my books, or sections of them, a couple different ways. None of them necessarily feel permanent, but shaking things up is good anyway.
I’ve pretty much gotten rid of almost every single garment (except my wedding dress) that I don’t love. There’s now a lot of empty space. But what remains . . . pleases my eyes, and my heart.
I’ll turn 48 soon. 1990, that godawful year of 12 major traumas (including a nervous breakdown) was . . . half my life ago. If Current Me could’ve visited 1990 Me in a dream, there’s so much she would’ve found fantastical. Married? For 21 years?? Living in Maryland? After living (for years) in Indiana and New York? A writer for 5 years? Photography is one of your major art forms, to the tune of ~30,000 photos in the last few years? Have been to Australia 2x, New Zealand once? Writing poetry again?? You’ll escape the Foofino tractor beam, in spectacular fashion, but years on. You’ll not only graduate college (with honors! With no debt!), but attend graduate school? On a University Fellowship?? You’ll change all your names, eventually. You won’t be a Pagan forever, but you will be one for 25 years. You will become an environmental scientist! And yet, it won’t turn out to be anywhere near as cool as being your own person 10 years after that. (Despite no job, a tiny social support network, and being at loose ends a lot.) You’ll love working with ceramics, but find your calling with fibers. And then noodle around with balance, space, and sculptural forms that should be poems, but you can’t figure out how. You will try out identities you’ve never heard of; some will stick, some won’t. You’ll be enriched by all of them. You’ll return to New Mexico — only you, for you and your art — and it will be amazing. You’ll finally travel by yourself, for yourself, and the whole world will open up.
None of this implies that I should hold onto anything from 1990, before 1990, after 1990, that doesn’t fit my life in 2014. Life at 24 is much different than life at 48. And it should be.
Who can I be . . . now? What has become possible that I couldn’t even have imagined before? Which wilderness can I wander off into?
Who are we and where are we going, Merriwether Lewis?
And thus I simultaneously embrace (parts of) my past, while striding through my present, and anticipating a future containing marvels.