Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My Path to A Simpler, More Creative Life

I want to share my adventure with y'all because it's so life-changing. You know, just like someone who discovers Brazilian waxing and can't wait to convert all her friends, but without the ick factor. And the pain. Plus there will be no semi-nekkid (or fully-nekkid) photos, I promise.

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, obsessed dedicated as I was. In the last year I've radically readjusted my thinking about time.

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.


Dora said...

I can relate to what you are doing. I've been purging my home also and even though I have given away or thrown away tons of stuff, I know that I am not done. However, the space that is left is lighter and brighter. The basement was the worst. Now all that are left there are two ladders, a table saw and of course the furnace and hot water heater.

Suella said...

You are an impreessive de-lutterer. I've followed you from before you started sharing all your tamp mterial, though your mother's death and on to now.

Your logic about feeling better for getting rid of things that no longer make you happy is spot on.

I'm trying...but am still collecting art supplies to use "someday".

I love your textile art, stitchery and art to wear. Looking forward to seeing what you do next.

Good luck for your new blog.

Venus de Hilo said...

Yes, getting rid of physical things can free up so much mental and creative space. Have saved this in Evernote, so I can find it again, might want to quote you someday. Look forward to seeing what new stitchy creations you'll make next.

Ricë said...

Thanks so much for reading and for your interest in the journey. It's exciting and frustrating (my husband doesn't care what *I* get rid of, but he's definitely jumping on the bandwagon) and tiring. Today I'm taking down brackets that held shelves, then patching nail holes, then repainting. I want to put up a huge mirror there to reflect more light. I'm tired just thinking of it, but it helps knowing there are people who will enjoy seeing photos of the results (that's my carrot!). XO

Ricë said...

I meant he's NOT jumping on the bandwagon.

Hastypearl said...

Great post. Ive really just started following you and its funny...I remember asking you one time in a comment if you ever slept! I think you are still super woman for all that you do. Its all relative. I know people who don't do much that think they are busy, so...Honing down to what we LOVE, regardless of how it looks, is best. Im probably busier than Ive ever been, and loving it :) Laura

Chyfey said...

Both my parents were might's ,we might need that one day.
I declutter my house every spring clean up,except for the craft room, till 2014.Now the whole house gets done, I send off stuff to other crafters and it feels good.