Sunday, September 30, 2012

A little bit of plastic

What I have pictured here are some small implements that can change your life!  They don't look like much, but they've been a great help to me and I didn't even know they existed until just over a year ago.  They sit right on a shelf, just about any shelf in a cupboard, and they give you a little more surface to set things on.  They're especially good for small objects, because you can set them on top and slide little things right under them.  Because they're not really as deep as a cupboard, you can stand things in front of them that are taller.  If you look at my previous entry, you can see them in action.  On the larger wire tray at right, I included some small vintage trays to set on top to show how they can hold tiny things that will slip through the openings.

My mother gave me the larger wire thing, as well as others.  I got about ten of the smaller ones at a yard sale for ten cents each.  I took all that they had!

This leads me to another pointer: you don't have to spend a lot to get sorted.  Keep an eye out at yard sales for containers.  You don't have to have a closet company come in and build a thing that looks like a cat hotel for your shoes and shirts.

I just returned from a week's visit with my family in California.  I have to admit that the continuing endeavors to clean out my basement were in my thoughts more than once. It's a creative project, and it's making me look at myself and my surroundings in a new way.  I think it's partly because I've turned some corners in the grieving process for my husband, and I'm looking at possessions as separate from memories.  It's very hard but it's extremely important for me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Question All Advice

At this moment I'd like to mention a few bits of advice that I've heard from so-called organizing gurus that I don't think are especially helpful to me.  Not that you should ignore them completely, but I think it's best for you to come up with your own system of doing things after considering the angles.

Here's one thing I hear a lot: "If you haven't used/worn it in a year, get rid of it.  You'll never use it."

My amendment to that is, put the thing in question in a place where you'll see it a lot.  That is, if you really kind of like it and hate the thought of parting with it straight off.  Give yourself a little time to decide.  It's not like it's going to get any bigger and take up MORE space.

A similar maxim to the above is, if you catch yourself saying, "I might use this someday, I can't get rid of it," well, maybe you will really use it again someday!  But again, you need to have it where you can think about it more than you have been.  It's true that we tend to pack things away and forget about them, then dig them out and get excited all over again about having them.  The trick is to put it in your own way for a while so you will actually use it.

I'm no minimalist, as my friends will tell you, but I hate random piles of detritus collecting everywhere.  That's why I have a couple cupboards where I just keep tchotchkes that I intend to rotate in and out of the bric-a-brac I keep out on display fulltime.  I try not to keep buying new things is all.  When you have some pretty objets that you can switch out with the vases and such, your home feels like a new place all of  a sudden.

Not long ago, I did empty out a number of boxes of china artifacts I'd been storing and I did decide that they no longer suited my tastes.  I put a few on eBay, and some I ended up taking to a vintage store I love, Village Merchants.  They are in Portland, on SE Division.  They will give cash for things they take, but I always get trade which ends up being worth more.  Then I can get something that I really want or need.  This store has furniture and other home decor stuff, but they also have clothing and jewelry.  I can't say how much I love this place!  One of my favorite stores in Portland, hands down.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A few words before bed...

I'm up so late because I spent the evening with my sister and her boyfriend - they cooked me dinner and then we watched A Dangerous Method, one of the latest movies by David Cronenberg.  It's the one about a female patient of Carl Jung who also eventually became a revered psychoanalyst, before WWI.  It was fantastic, but wasted a little bit on me because I dozed off a couple times and lost a few seconds here and there.  I just need to catch up on sleep, there was nothing wrong with the story.  I'd like to watch it again so I catch all the dialogue and fully process everything.

I'm away from where I usually write my blog so I can't insert some clever pictures or document my home improvement project.  I haven't been able to do it in a few days.  After I wrote my entry for yesterday I thought that my advice was too pithy.  The truth is when I get back to what I was doing I plan to move into the more difficult stage of my mess management, and I've been talking around it.  A huge reason I'm doing all of this is because my husband died last year, and I need to get down to finding some new homes for his huge collection of books and some other possessions, but mostly books.  I have a hard time conveying to anyone the monumental task this is, not just emotionally, but the sheer amount of material there is to deal with.  Part of me wants to take another year to manage it all, but I'm coming to terms with the fact that in order to deal with his passing I'm going to have to face parting with some of his things.  He was an artist, a scholar and a writer, and I've made arrangements with a local art college to take a large amount of his books.  This way I know that students will continue to learn from them, and they'll be a place that prizes them.  It's hard to look at his things as just stuff.  My husband tried to make it seem like his things weren't especially important, but he collected them lovingly over years' time and they helped him make his own contributions to art and writing.

I think the best way for me to handle this task is to involve friends to work alongside me.  It might make the job go faster and it will be good to have their support.  I look at a lot of the organizing work I've done so far  as groundwork for the toil ahead of me. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Am I there yet?

I decided a couple weeks ago that I was going to treat this organizing project as a process, not a destination.  Only a couple days ago I was taking a long journey by car.  It occurred to me that if I thought of the trip as a series of little sections, it would be more bearable than wondering at what time I would end up at the city I was aiming to visit.  Like, if I told myself, I'll stop in Cottage Grove and then I'll stop in Grant's Pass, then  it gave me little goals to meet.  I didn't become impatient with myself for not getting to my last stop by a specific time, and I enjoyed the whole trip a lot more.

Thusly I am approaching my decluttering objectives.  If I say to myself, today I'm going to sort out this pile of papers on my couch and focus on that until it's done the way I want, then I don't get overwhelmed.  In contrast, when I look at my basement, or my computer room, or any whole room as a whole, I feel like I will never get through it.  Little bits of success make me want to see more.  You can't go through a garden and thresh out every weed in a single sweep; you must pull out each little nuisance one by one.

This process can be fun.  Additionally, I've found so many lost items while sorting that I want to see what else will turn up.

Last week I decided to apply this approach to my work in my living area.  I had been spending so much time taking things out of the basement that my upstairs was getting out of control.  After just a few hours I had a clean living room and kitchen, and the linen closet was looking a lot better too.  I had an even bigger pile of things to donate to Salvation Army, which went down to the basement to await their truck on pickup day.

I'm so preoccupied with decluttering as a hobby as well as a necessity, that I've begun treating it as a form of pornography.  I've been surfing before-and-after pictures of basements, bedrooms, closets and kitchens that underwent cleanups on Google Images.  I hunted down articles with tips and personal case histories.  I don't know if they helped so much as made me want to dive into their messes and see if I could make some headway.

Gretchen Rubin, author of the book The Happiness Project, has lots of great advice for living well, and counts decluttering as an excellent way to raise your spirits.  Read her upbeat blog here. 


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Upstairs Downstairs

While perusing the DVD shelves of my local library yesterday I came across an unexpected gem.  It's a British reality show called Manor House; much like the 1900 House series of a few years ago.  Here's a description I read on IMDB:

"21 people from the 21st century are being brought together in an Edwardian Country House. 6 of them are the Upstairs family and the 15 others are the servants. For three months, these people have only the rulebook and each other..."

I put it down at first because as a rule I hate reality television, but then I realized this show fits right into my particular tastes.  The point of the show is to have the family and other people involved live with the social protocols and everything else contemporary to  the Edwardian manor house style. If you've ever seen Gosford Park (one of my favorite movies ever)  or Downton Abbey, these illustrate perfectly the kind of life this show is trying to have the participants recreate.  Thankfully, it's not a contest, but it is a challenge to the people involved to cleave to the social roles (as well as the lack of technology) from back then.  I love movies that take place in this kind of household.  I don't long for those times, let's make that clear, but I do think a (fictional) manor house is a perfect place to have dozens of intrigues going on at once.  Scandalous!

Here's a clip of Manor House!

As far the upstairs vs. downstairs in my own house goes, I'm finding that I have to be sure I'm not just hiding things from myself, that they really are being put away or given away.  The room I'm sitting in right now has become the defacto extra storage room, especially when guests arrive.  They think my house is so clean because the walls in here are straining with junk!  And that's what I'm trying to do away with in general.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

You don't LOOK like a chili dog

More selling of books today, and donating to Title Wave.  You may think that my whole life right now is sorting out my crap, and you would be partly right.  I don't have a full time job at the moment, and this is an urgent matter, so I'm trying to stick with it as much as I can.  Also, I worked very hard closing down the store I ran, The Bad Apple, so I'm trying to take it kind of easy.  I messed up my back a little and I have a recurrence of plantar fascitis in my right foot.  I'm only lifting little things for now, and using a cart whenever possible.

Here's an old photo of The Bad Apple, around the time my husband Dylan opened it with his friend Tim three and a half years ago:

That's Patrick McGoohan's face on the wall there, though if you've ever watched The Prisoner you don't need to wonder where that still is from!

This is only a very small portion of the stuff it eventually had.  Books, books, books, and lots of dvds and vhs tapes.  Not to mention the furniture and fixtures.  And, wait, there was a back room where Dylan ran a comic book publishing company, Sparkplug Comic Books.  Here's a photo of that, from way back:

When I think it will be too hard to get my personal space in order, I tell myself that I coordinated moving everything in this space (which was much more stuff than you see here).  This was an 1800sf space!  I should be able to manage the 200sf or so that I am overseeing now.

I'd like to say a word here about Craigslist, and what a help it was to me over the last few weeks!  I sold a few pieces of furniture, and that was great for raising the money needed for the move and the new Sparkplug location.  However, the "free stuff" classifieds are just as good when you need to get a load out quickly.  It's like getting a moving company for free!  I got rid of some huge, slightly damaged metal shelves that I was dreading having to take out on my own. The same for a big old sofa bed with tears and stains.  People will take the weirdest things as long as they're free!  I got about 75 email inquiries in just a few hours on one ad.

Portland Store Fixtures was pretty great for this kind of thing too.  They bought a couple fixtures and completely lowballed me (I mean LOWballed).  But, they offered to take anything else that I didn't want.  Apparently they have ways of recycling that thrift stores can't do.  I gave them all the damaged or flat out broken stuff that I had left after the Craigslist sweep.  The only thing the pickup dude wouldn't take was a pane of chipped glass that I was having trouble throwing out.  Whatever, I just thought I'd ask if he wanted it.  This experience has kept my enthusiasm for the Portland Store Fixtures high.  I got compensated in junk removal.  If I ever wanted to start a new store, I know they'd have whatever I needed and cheap-ish, so I still think they're rad.

I was watching NCIS Los Angeles this evening while making yet another pile of things to take to SCRAP* and a guy in it says "Now I feel like a chili dog" after looking at some photos of a criminal rendezvous at the Santa Monica pier, or someplace like that.  The girl he's talking to looks at him dumbfounded.  Just LOOKS at him.

*SCRAP, 2915 NE MLK Blvd, Portland OR 97212 (503-294-0769),  Best place ever to find cheap and plentiful donated art supplies!  Best place to donate them to also!

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Psychopath Test

I managed to make it to Goodwill and sell some books at the Hawthorne branch of Powells today.  The guy buying my books took so long that the other buyer met with at least three other individuals before I was done.  I have a lot of books left over - I plan to save them up and give a pile to Title Wave, the bookstore that raises money for the Multnomah County library system.  A lot of them might end up in the Friends of the Library booksale, which is where they started out before they ended up in my store.  The circle of life for a book.  

I've been reading a book by Jon Ronson, The Psychopath Test.  I'm finding that I've already heard a few of his anecodotes from the book on This American Life, but there's a lot more to it.  Mainly it's about what personality traits make a true psychopath and where one can find them in society.  Not too surprisingly, psychiatrists who have made this their focus of study believe that some of the top corporate leaders and politicians are bona fide Patrick Batemans.  Not in the homicidal sense, but they approach work as though they were preying on weaker animals.  I can think of a couple people I've met that might fit this description, but don't worry, if you are reading this you are not one of them.  Probably.

Instead of another boring pic of my basement, I'm putting here a little collage I made of stuff that I sold on eBay earlier this year.  This should brighten up your day:

Helpful hints from Mama Ingrid, et al

Isabella Rossellini wrote a memoir called Some of Me, in which she shared her mother's (Ingrid Bergman, that is) own methods for cleaning up after a party at the Rossellini household.  That advice was, never leave the room empty handed.  That's something I'm taking to heart these days, but I'm taking it a step further.  I never leave the house without something in my hand, or my car, that I won't be bringing back to take up space in my house again!  For example, I take stuff to Goodwill, or to Far West Fibers, which is the massive recycling center off SE Holgate in Portland.  You can take shoes, appliances, and white styrofoam there!

One of my friends told me about a cleanup he did at his own house, where he decided that nothing he didn't want was going back into his bedroom.  So now I'm looking at things more critically to determine if I really want the things I'm keeping around. 

Today I didn't do a whole lot, though I tried.  I put a few things in the car to take over to Village Merchants, one of my favorite thrift stores in town, on SE Division.  When I got there I remembered that they don't take items on Sundays.  So, those things are still in my car.

I shifted a few things around in the basement and took a few things upstairs to sort, so there is a nearly detectable improvement.  At least there are no more falling boxes.

So in the photo above, we have the same view on two different nights.  The one on the left is from tonight, so that is the "after" shot.  I'm getting somewhere but am I just putting the crap in my living space upstairs?  Am I just kidding myself?

PS: I just finished Dangerous Angels, the collected novels of the Weetzie Bat series by Francesca Lia Block.  It was so good, I had borrowed it from the library but I want to get my own copy to keep.  It's a perfect manual for finding love and beauty in a fucked up and dangerous world, and not losing hope.  It's just what I needed to read right at this time in my life.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Basement Conniption

I'm starting this blog partly to motivate myself to get my basement in better order.  This is what it looks like now, more or less:

Here's another view of it, looking towards the garage entrance:

As you can see, there's almost no visible path through the mess.  It's quite dangerous, in fact.  There's a great many things that were set down just because they could be carried no further, so they piled up on top of one another.  There's been more than one small avalanche.

These were taken about three days ago.  There's been a tiny improvement since, but not much.  This all is a result of cleaning out the store I used to run with my friend Tim, as well as the move of the publishing company I also run.

It's important for me to keep on this project for many reasons.  Besides the obvious eyesore this is, I've been struggling against depression and anxiety for a year.  Chaos like this makes it all worse for me, and when I am anxious or depressed I am less likely to complete chores like this one.  More importantly, if I feel bad I don't do the things I really enjoy doing.  Keeping my hands busy and working through this kind of stuff helps me feel better.  So in a way, this is also a blog about how I'm dealing with those issues.

I'll post some more pictures very soon with the progress I've already made, and the ideas I've had for the cleanup.  I think it will be fun, if challenging.