Cleaning the Closet

Wallpaper - Hyacinth, pattern #480 - 1915-17
Wallpaper – Hyacinth, pattern #480 – 1915-17 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been decluttering my apartment — but I’d rather be in Paris.

I hired a home organizer, the Clutter Whisperer, and bribed a girlfriend, Barbara, to help me declutter my stuff. My brother and sis-in-law helped a lot too.

“The 1970s called, Mary Beth,” my bro Brendan said. “They want their chair back.”

I cannot do this kind of spelunking alone. Or without some humor, apparently.

Cynthia, a.k.a., the Clutter Whisperer, whom I found years ago on Craigslist, gave me some advice: purge your books and your clothes. I like her nonjudgmental approach. She said I’d do well in a big old farmhouse rather than a NYC apartment. That’s nice. I’d do better with a backpack in Europe too.

In my defense, as I tell my mother, “City apartments don’t have garages, basements, attics, big closets, cars, or home offices.” I know. I know. We have museums and parks. And I’d take them any day. I like experiences way better than things. But I have to get rid of the things so that I can have the experiences.

I thought when I left my job a year ago, I’d stay on top of my family’s stuff. A family of five just accumulates. And with Chris’s Parkinson’s, he’s a bit slower to help or initiate decluttering.

Also, I’ve been way more interested in my biz and my freelancing work than in home-centered activities.

I have excellent taste. I’m good at noticing (and sometimes making) beautiful things, I’m just not good at showcasing them or bidding them farewell (as in kids’ art projects!)

When working on my closet Friday, Barbara offered me this quote from William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful.” Tall order. As I cleaned the closet, I found:

  • a journal from my raft trip on the Rio Grande in 1992
  • Hi8 tapes from the kids as toddlers
  • an orange tank top with the price still affixed (LOVE orange, but often wear the basic NYC black!)

These things were all kind of beautiful and kind of useful. The “kind-ofs” get me. I hang on to “kind of.”

I am asking the kids to join me in the purging of books and clothes.

I feel like contacting Gretchen Rubin. In her book The Happiness Project she talks about the joys of decluttering and, even, gasp, keeping an empty shelf. I’d like to do that. I’d like be a minimalist. I’d like to escape to Europe.

Right now, I’m traveling through my daughters’ seventh grade papers, going back in time. And if I’m lucky, I’ll recycle the past and move into the present, perhaps even experience a park or museum today.

Big Answers on Small Screens

I like knowing where to find answers to life’s mysteries.

“And the answer is seen on that little screen. The answer is seen on that screen,” sung to the tune of the “Blowing in the Wind.” Everybody now, join in.

Ken Medema improvised this song at the Religion Communication Congress in Chicago this weekend right after hearing Jeffrey Cole, director for the Center for the Digital Future at University of Southern California. Like so much of the RCCongress 2010, Medema and Cole were brilliant. 

We are finding answers to life’s mysteries on small screens — for most of us, on our phones. In the near future, 5 billion out of the world’s 6 billion people will have cell phones. We will use our phones more than our computers or televisions (or iPads?).

I don’t know what this mean for people (like me) looking for big answers.  

Cole reported that in 35 years the amount of time we spend in front of screens has doubled. In 1975, we spent 16 hours in front of screens. In 2010, we spent 34 hours per week in front of screens.

That’s a lot. Too much, really, doncha think?

When is the TV turn off week? (To find out, I’ll Google TV Turn Off Week.) Let’s make it this week. I’m going to have my children turn off their Xbox and laptops. And yes, their cell phones. (You may want to share your experience or opinion on TV Turn Off Week on this blog. Or don’t. Just go outside and take a walk in the park.)

I just walked in Grant Park with my aunt. We wandered. We found a bench to sit. We people watched. We dog watched.

We discussed books we’d read. I told her how I loved “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann. She didn’t really like “Wolf Hall.” Both were book club selections. So was “The Happiness Project.” I told her how in that book Gretchen Rubin describes having to put ‘Wander’ up on her checklist of things to do. We have trouble wandering. Aunt Kathy told me about a woman who followed Oprah’s advice for a year. We are searching.

We are searching the internet; we are asking each other. We are wandering. I am writing this on the plane from Chicago. A man just walked down the aisle with a tee shirt that said, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

So, let’s follow that advice and not act lost. Let’s pretend that when we wander we find the answers. Let’s pretend that the answer will come as we wander. Let’s pretend that the screens will reveal answers.

I read in the New York Times that James Cameron showed his film, “Avatar,” to indigenous peoples and leaders in Brazil. He said the real-life plight of preserving the people’s land was like the plight of the animated peoples fighting for their wandering island.

So the answer for the people in Brazil was found on the big screen, which you probably could view on a small screen.

My small answer to this big question is to turn off the screen. Maybe just for a week. During that time I hope to wander and find a spot on a park bench.