Thursday, November 11, 2010

How to Write when the Boat Shed is Howling

How hard it is to write when the Boat Shed starts calling out in an unseemly way from the front of the property. I imagine it hunkered down there like one of the Wild Things in Maurice Sendak's book, grinning and disruptive and loud.

It's full of everything but boats in fact - heaving instead with unused ski gear, boxes of old toys, kids' books, videos, photos, camping gear, unhung paintings, tools, cans of paint. And it's not a tidy archive - it's a tip. Not helped by middle son doing various things related to fixing cars in there.

It is crying out to be cleared out. And not just so there's a clear space in there for my son to teach guitar or my daughter to have summer sleepovers. But also so I can get on with things. The emotional weight of each and every item in there is huge - there would be some things that weigh the same as the planet I'm standing on. So how can I even consider lifting them into the car to take to the hospice shop or to my son's friend Dan's girlfriend who has the sweetest daughter?

Maine writer Susan Landry has blogged on the 'messy room' and the weight therein, and pointed out that some of us see things as heavy when in fact what we're carrying is just a giant feather. She says blithely, 'I'm going to clean out the messy room'. But she and I know it won't be that easy. Check out her wonderfully named Twisted Knickers blog for her giant feather picture... a much nicer image than a raging Wild Thing (shut up can't you? I'm trying to blog). 

A young American blogger has another solution. He is living and espousing a minimalist life as a way to find true freedom. It sounds very like the way my Buddhist friend lives, although this chap (aged a mere 26) is more extreme. He lives with only 57 things including clothes. One of his rules is to get rid of things he hasn't used in a month. He also talks about throwing away photos he doesn't look at and burning notebooks of unpublished writings. Just thinking about that makes my skin prickle. I am aghast and excited all at once.

This chap, with the only-in-America name of Everett Bogue, says living with 57 things releases him from the past, from emotional baggage, from all that weighty stuff pulling us away from the freedom and wonder of the living moment. I'm not sure how much 'past' I had to discard at 26, but good on Everett for starting the way he means to go on -- that way he will never have a Boat Shed howling in his ear day and night.

So something to think about.

I couldn't get down to 57 things. Full-stop. It would be like losing an arm not to have my books and my precious collected things (being suitably vague here). And I really do need more than two pairs of jeans, a pair of cut-off jeans, a hoodie and a selection of purple and grey tank-tops to get through the days (see Everett's list at the bottom of the post). I'm not as bad as some friends who feel strongly that to be happy and free to live as they want to, they need stuff. They are like bees with pollen on their legs and bodies, lifting off heavily into the sky. Without it, they wouldn't be bees.

I'm bee-like, there is no doubt - although living with a minimalist husband has made me think differently and work hard (to good effect) on shedding things. Although I'm not sure 'shedding' means shifting them into the Shed.

I do know that cutting back further to - oh I don't know - 5700 things would definitely free me up emotionally and, no doubt, creatively.  And I say that without a hint of sarcasm.

A friend who has just turned 50 reckons she's going to follow Everett's lead and try to get down to 50 things. Clear the decks. Write what she always wanted to write. Good on her. She will be my inspiration. And I'll keep checking up on Everett and Susan too. I see it as a step-by-step thing. Today the boys' old bikes tomorrow the bag of Issy's first shoes (perhaps keep one pair.)

And as for those old notebooks.... I'd need a permit for a bonfire that big. So maybe not now. Really, I have work to do.

Everett Bogue on detroying your past lives  and on living with 57 Things here. His list: 
  1. MacBook Pro
  2. Macbook cleaning cloth
  3. iPhone 4
  4. iPhone earbuds
  5. Black Yoga Mat
  6. Moleskin notebook
  7. Pen to write in moleskin notebook
  8. Surly Steamroller Fixie
  9. Helmet
  10. Bike lock
  11. Frye Boots
  12. Belt
  13. Gray Converse Allstars
  14. Tom’s Shoes
  15. REI two-person backpacking tent
  16. Sleeping bag
  17. Gray hoodie
  18. Wind breaker
  19. Sunglasses
  20. Army jacket
  21. Tweed jacket
  22. Black heavier jacket
  23. Gray backpack
  24. Black Diamond Gray Backpacking bag
  25. Jeans
  26. Jeans
  27. Cutoff old jeans
  28. Purple tank
  29. Purple tank
  30. Gray tank
  31. Gray long-sleeve sweatshirt
  32. Gray long-sleeve T
  33. Coffee tank
  34. Gray v-neck
  35. Gray v-neck
  36. Black v-neck
  37. Blue v-neck
  38. Purple T
  39. Gray T
  40. Gray T
  41. Black T
  42. Toothbrush
  43. Deodorant
  44. Swim Trunks
  45. Keys to apartment + bike lock
  46. Minimalist “wallet” (really just a paper clamp that I keep my cards and cash in)
  47. Gray sweatpants
  48. Brown sweatpants
  49. Brown button cowboy shirt
  50. Gray button-down
  51. Socks (about 10 pairs)
  52. Underwear (about 10 pairs)
  53. Sewing repair kit for clothes
  54. Travel towel
  55. Knit hat that Alix made me
  56. 1 TB harddrive
  57. 500 Gb harddrive (looking into cloud backup options)


lillyanne said...

Yikes! The aim is fine and dandy, but the very thought of the doing sends my brain into a spin of panic. FIFTYSEVEN? Yes to downsizing by all means - we did it a few years ago and the process was agonising but the product is still a joy of lightness. I try for "one in one out", and often fail. I give away clothes I haven't worn for a year or so and seldom have regrets. (But give 'em away if you haven't worn 'em for a month? What about seasons? I whine in a panicky voice.)
Prickly skin at the thought, Mary? More like full blown psoriasis in this corner. said...

Be careful Mary - some things will look like junk but they will stand the test of time, like the torn and faded (pieces missing) Memory Game that both my sons played and now my granddaughter plays with her Papa - yes, there is an iphone application Memory game - but there is nothing quite so lovely as watching them on the floor, lining up the real hold in your hand cards (her Papa was terrific at the memory game) and what joy as we turn over the cards, remember the tulip, the rose, the banana and the lion. I have taped up both boxes of the memory game with brown tape, they do not look fancy or new, but they do bring back memories.

Pam Morrison said...

When I was young (20 something) and admittedly didn't have heaps of 'stuff', the van transporting my gear broke down between cities and was robbed. I still remember first the heady shock of the news that all I now owned were the clothes in my suitcase, then the sweet sense of liberation, so pure and strong that I felt like I'd entered a state of spiritual enlightenment. The vow of poverty suddenly made profound sense. Since that day I've steadily steadfastly accumulated. Why do I do it? I'm back with the question. Not sure yet about the action. Thanks Mary.

Harper said...

Very cool post Mary. As the above-mentioned fifty-year old. I don't think I actually said I was aiming for 50 things, although the wine was flowing at a steady rate so I can't really remember what I said.

Mike and I had previously discussed the sock issue, and wondered if perhaps a sock counted as one item. The fact that a number of socks and undies can be classified as one item each makes the whole thing much more attainable :-)

The journal you gave me will equate to his moleskin one and the paperweight will remind me to write in it and keep my dreams alive; two things which should always feature in a writer's 50 possessions.

Much love,Deb

Catherine said...

Only an American could throw out anything not used in the last month. The rest of us have no central heating, and put away our summer clothes for several months in winter, and vice versa. It seems contrary to the spirit of living with fewer things to go and buy new clothes each time the season changes.
Like you, I'd hate to get rid of my books. I do feel I could live with much less, but since the rest of my family doesn't seem to feel the same, and it is rather debatable which things are "mine" which are "his" or "theirs" and which are "ours", I feel a bit stuck.

Audrey said...

Consider detachment. Making choices is inherently human, we choose to be attached or detached to each object. Are 57 objects one is attached to any better than a multitude one is detached from? There may just be a middle ground ... and what about stages in ones life? With our children older now, we find ourselves divesting ourselves of the debris of family life. Oh well, perhaps another book fair for Bougainville will help clear some of the shelves.

susan t. landry said...

i love the game: 57 my mind is racing. but i have to agree with some of your friends, mary, in that choosing 57 is really only a matter of choice for those of us who have waaaay too much. (have you ever seen Peter Menzel's amazing book Material World?
thank you for this thoughtful piece>

T. said...

5700 things is about right!

I have a friend who espouses, at any given time, getting rid of half of one's possessions. Not a bad idea.

The bigger challenge is in not acquiring in the first place, to consume less, but over here in the U.S. that would be considered un-American!

An economy based on consumption and more consumption will inevitably crash at some point.

In my camping days, I always marveled at how little we needed to live like kings and queens for a week on a tiny island reachable only by boat, living in a tent, cooking over a fire.

But then, perhaps there is something in us genetically that makes us desire possessions, and maybe there's not a thing wrong with it.

All food for thought!

Rachael King said...

A ha. And I'm guessing this guy doesn't cook. Or does he just rely on his friends who are burdened with possessions to look after that department?

Anonymous said...

imagine all the stories in your objects- you could have a novel just sitting in the boat shed....

though personally, I have fantasies that the guy from Oprah will come and magic me space and order and zen calm and sensibility - let me keep the dream!

( though I did destroy a lot of old notebooks when I had to clear out my study for baby - kind of liberating, the ideas and itch to write flooding in...)

Anonymous said...

This guy is not going to win Ascetic of the Year. Maybe that wasn't what he signed up for, but surely anyone with a MacBook Pro, iPhone 4 and two hard drives has not "decluttered"; he's just put everything he has in a smaller space. What software does he have? How many books, songs, movies, images, etc, does he carry on these slimline devices, which are surely varieties of Tardis (larger on the inside than the outside, as well as coming complete with travel opportunities)? And what in heaven's name is a Surly Steamroller Fixie?

I will now resume reading "A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder — How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and Off-the-Cuff Planning Make the World a Better Place."


Catherine said...

I was curious about the Surly Steamroller Fixie too, and the fact that he has a bike lock but no bike on the list. It turns out that the Surly Steamroller Fixie is a bicycle. So, two curly questions answered.
There are no clothes pegs on his list, no laundry powder (guess he uses a laundromat?), no plates, mugs, forks, spoons etc. Just to mention a few of the things that I have used today. Oh, and a bed, a chair, a table, a watch (but then, he probably uses his iPhone for that), a saw, a lawnmower, a broom, a dustpan (he lives in a small apartment? and always eats out?)
I've been thinking of making a list of all the things I actually use in a month, not including things at work that someone else owns - I wonder if I can get down to 570, let alone 57?

Mary McCallum said...

Thanks for all the comments people. Love them all. Hours could be spent disconstructing Everett's list - yes, where are the cooking utensils (perhaps he cooks with a stick over a fire?), the bed (perhaps built-in furniture doesn't count?). Thanks Catherine, the Steamroller Fixie is a bicycle... interesting the apartment keys and bike lock equal one thing... and to start the list with a MacBook Pro! As you say Claire - how many 'things' are wrapped up in item no. 1? (let alone the other computer related items.) And Audrey's comments are interesting re. why it's better to be attached to the few versus the many, it's still attachment in the end . There is that thing, too, that perhaps we are meant to 'collect' - we certainly seem to do it naturally. I note in the link thingy at the end of my post 'You might also like:' popped up there right now is the cover of Milan Kundera's 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being.' The truth is for some of us, that's how we'd feel without stuff (especially important things linked with our past like Maggie's child's game)... but then look at the 'lightness' nay euphoria Pam felt when she lost her things ... and she's not the first person I've heard speak of that. The truth is we are all different, and I do admire people like Deb who aim to declutter and create physical space which equals emotional space to be and create. I have done it to some degree, but really feel I need to make another major leap...

.... watch this spot.