But, yeah, I *am* a convert, and because it's making me so happy, I want to share. The reason I think what I'm learning might be valuable to y'all, too, is because so, so many people tell me, "I wish I had more time for my _______." Fill in the blank: for my painting, for my sewing, for my studio, for myself. For my life.
I am simplifying my life, and there are a bunch of things that went into getting me here, so I thought I'd start with those. Maybe you're like me and know rather a lot of Women Of A Certain Age who are simplifying, decluttering, clearing out. They probably experienced some of this same stuff that sent them off on their own path.
A big one for me was sorting out my mother's stuff after her death right as I turned 50. My mother kept everything and took care of it, but she was frugal and didn't have expensive stuff, meaning no estate sale people were willing to come in and sort it and sell it, leaving it to me and my husband. I looked at this lifetime's accumulation of stuff, stuff that my mother had assumed I'd be happy to have someday, and realized there was hardly anything I wanted: some furniture my dad had made, a couple pieces of jewelry they'd given each other when they were young. I kept those few things and gave away almost everything else, from her silverware and china to her car (the car we gave to one of my husband's former students). From that experience, I learned two big things: so much of the stuff we think is important really just isn't, not to anyone else, and not even really to *us*. And, second: giving stuff away is really, really fun.
In the years since, I've done some hard thinking about the stuff I "own" and whether it actually owns me (I have to take care of it, insure it, keep it clean and in good condition, etc., just basically looking after it as if I were its servant) and why, exactly, I'm keeping it. I have given away at least half of what I had, from shoes to bags to clothes to furniture to a ton of art supplies and over half my library. I'm not done yet. I'll write more about this adventure soon.
Part of this is age-related: I already have arthritis that is worsening year by year. I want the rest of my life to be about doing what I love—stitching, writing—and don't want to have to do a lot of stuff (cleaning, moving, digging through stuff for something I need) that will become increasingly difficult.
A couple years ago I finally gave in and began taking a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) for the completely unrelenting anxiety (the kind of worry that wakes you up in the middle of the night with pounding, racing heart, night after night) I'd always hoped would lessen as I got older. Instead, it had gotten worse. I reluctantly began the prescription, but because I hate relying on drugs to solve problems, I decided I would reinforce a minimal dose with big lifestyle changes. In doing a lot of serious thinking, I had the realization that in order to clear out my head, I needed to clear out my house and my life. I needed to get rid of the clutter—space clutter, time clutter, mental clutter—that was in there.
Time? I always prided myself on being a workaholic, never mind that I've never made a lot of money. I enjoy the work I do, and in order to compensate (mentally, because no one but me cared) for not having a high-paying job, I had multiple jobs. At one time I had six, all at the same time. For a short period in my 30s, I slept in two short shifts in between two of the several jobs I had. More recently, I prided myself on working every day and being available to people at any time I was awake. This came to a screeching halt the day I was checking on a new website I'd helped design and found a glitch and tried to get in touch with someone to let them know. OK, I *knew* it was Christmas Day; I'm not that eccentric. I just hadn't realized that not everyone was as, um,
I'll also write more about time and about a lot of other things as I move on along this path. I realize I'm very, very fortunate to have a partner who does the cooking and cleaning and shopping and, seriously, pretty much everything, but it's not like I lie on the couch and eat bonbons. This summer so far I've refinished (from scratch, on my hands and knees) 2 1/2 rooms of 75-year-old hardwood floors and painted the living room (yeah, I had his help on the living room). I do a lot of stuff. But now I do stuff that I want to do, not stuff that I think I'm supposed to do. I am consciously avoiding "busy" as a part of any response to questions about how I'm doing, even going so far as to say, "No," when someone comes right out and asks, "So you've been really busy lately, too?" (Although you see I couldn't help telling you about doing the floors, right?)
The result of all this is just as I'd hoped it would be: I'm calmer, less stressed, and—the best part—with the cleared-out space, both mental and physical, there is room for the ideas to flow in. Big, time-consuming projects I wanted to try (detailed stitching stuff, for example) now seem doable. There's space to set up a big table and cut out fabric, and there's time to sink into projects that are going to take a while. As I get more sleep, I find I wake up with solutions to problems (how to hold fabric steady over a light box, for instance) and get really cool ideas as I'm falling asleep.
In short, I firmly believe that simplifying my life is enhancing my creativity. Sure, it's hard work, and sometimes I wonder if I'll someday regret getting rid of something big. But then I'll wake up after a good night's sleep and walk through a house with bright, clear space and face a day in which I can make pretty much anything I can dream up, and I know 1) the work is worth it and 2) even if it's not for everyone, I have to share, just in case it can make this kind of difference in someone else's creative life.