Thursday, June 16, 2016

Make two inner voices, instead of one.

Several talks about stuff and messages I give myself about how my stuff reflects who I am have reminded me the way I deal with self-hate has evolved quite a lot this last year. The most helpful thing for me is to remind myself that loving myself well is (for me) more about respect. I say and do things to myself I would never want anyone else to say or do to themselves, because "I need the hard truth," or

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

(Un)fashionable Me

Over the last 30 or so years I've dipped in and out of fashion (I have a love/hate relationship with sewing and mending/modifying). Sometimes I like to be cutting edge, sometimes I like being purposefully out of fashion, for the last five years I mostly just wore jeans and nondescript t-shirts. But continuity has been a linchpin of my looks - wearing a dress for ten, even twenty years in different ways, cutting it in two to make a top or skirt when another part is damaged, that sort of thing. I still held on to vintage or unusual clothes I'd had back when I lived in Hamtramck, and wore them sometimes to class at Boise State University; but I mostly stopped wearing them when I left Idaho.I didn't want to stand out. I wanted to not draw attention to myself. I wanted to seem more normal, more responsible, more hire-able, more conservative. Not fun, not interesting, not anything but blendable. Harmless. Dependable. Not artsy or possibly decadent. How sad, right?

This isn't true any more. During my last move, I could only take a limited number of boxes from CA to MA, and I had to let so much go I still have waves of shock and sorrow even half a year later. I took very few clothes, mostly what would pack very flat. I knew clothes would come to me from yard sales and thrift stores, and I had to admit almost all my vintage had been worn to death or barely fit without a serious corset - prednisone for a year blew me up like a balloon, and most of that weight is still clinging even with my fabulous new personal trainer's help. So I let the vintage go.

I'm tired of jeans and t-shirts again. Moving back to New England I remembered why Cyndi Lauper was my heroine growing up: homogeneity is all around me in the Boston area. Sure, there are some marvelous exceptions, and I light up and smile when I see them on the street. But how to get back in that groove after so many years of "blah?" And how to avoid owning too much of a good thing, now that I've committed to owning less?

I found a hip length green silk kimono with blue dragons and an asymmetrical neckline. I decided I would concentrate on interesting tops to wear with my jeans, ones I could take in as I go down in weight, and for every nifty top I'll give away a t-shirt, one at a time. I think this will work! 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Our possessions define, portray, and heal our mental illnesses

I've been giving some thought to this subject lately, for personal reasons as well as thinking back over all the people I've worked with through the years. I've written before about how PTSD from an earlier trauma resurfaced when I experienced other loss. It turned ownership of family things into a kind of obsession for me: I could not let go of objects that reminded me of love I once had (or wished I had) and they became "holy objects" even though not one of them was "valuable."

I cringe when I remember screaming at my then-husband for breaking a teacup that had belonged to my grandmother. He was constantly breaking things, or ruining them somehow, it seemed to me. I was the kind of person who maybe damaged one thing a year and then beat themselves up about it; I was careful because I cared. Because I had so little left to remind me of the family I'd once had who'd dispersed either with death or ruptured relationships, when my grandparents died I brought home and kept everything of theirs I could carry with me, after the rest of my family had taken what they wanted. I identified the objects with the people who had owned them, however mundane they were, however fragile or worn they already were, and when I used them daily I felt "home." When my then-husband moved in with me and used their (my) things in what was for him a normal way, well, it was disastrous. I nearly left him for what I perceived as malevolent reckless behaviour with what I considered essential to my life. We were poor,  and we only had available to us what I had amassed, my treasures, meagre as they were - and he was wrecking them. In those moments he felt like an enemy. He felt more alien to me than life without my things.

My heart aches when I remember how terrified I was of being alone in the world when I was younger. I needed to feel like I was ever a part of a "real" family, one that loved and embraced me as a good and decent person. Those possessions were my only proof that someone in my blood family loved me exactly the way I was, didn't mind that I was eccentric or adventurous, didn't mind that I hadn't chosen a straight path to financial glory or prestige and power, didn't mind that I wasn't a quiet little housewife with two good kids and a part-time job, who sang in my church's choir and wouldn't dream of doing anything avant-garde. My grandparents thought I was odd, but for the most part they enjoyed it. They encouraged me to be exactly who I was and no one else. When they were gone, all I had was censure or silence. So I clung to the memory of who they were: frugal, fun, thoughtful, interesting, well-traveled, loyal, sincere. Working class, well-educated, nice people. I wanted to be as much like them as I could, and by using their everyday objects I felt like I was closer to that and closer to them.

As time went by and I settled into Hamtramck life and found a family there, I eased up. I let go of many things; some I replaced with newer look-alikes in better condition, others I replaced with things I made myself (in their frugal tradition) or with gifts from like-minded friends. I learned to ebb and flow again, to ease the rigidity of ownership that comes from fear, the terrible pain of breakage was replaced with creativity and joy as I embraced my marriage to an artistic genius. He was strange and difficult to understand, but then so was I and so were most of our friends, and I saw my life in context and with hope for my own creativity. Inspiration for the reuse and recycling of old things became my way of artistic expression. I lived in harmony with my possessions.

This little snippet of life with stuff isn't the whole story; its genesis occurred long before and repercussions hammered me long after this snapshot occurred. I hope it will serve to show something of how our relationships to our possessions change in response to the place and time we live and our relationships with others. We must be careful and gentle when we use words like "always" or "never" to describe how things are: sometimes what seems like a constant will morph or even fall away abruptly and something we would not expect will take its place. My hope is that we can become conscious of process, conscious of the passage of time, and lovingly steer ourselves to better habits and healthier associations with the stuff around us.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Story of Stuff

Here's a short movie that gave me much to think about today as I am organizing closets. Thinking about waste helps me keep focus on how to help people understand what to save, what to buy, and what to recycle - and how to find the right folks to trade with. We do a lot of re-purposing in my house (broken jewelery gets pooled and remade, books are passed all around the family, clothes get taken apart and re-imagined for someone else or sent along to the thrift). How do you feel after you watch it?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Why I don't watch shows about hoarders

When I describe what I do, people sometimes enthusiastically say "Oh, I watched that show Hoarders on TV" and then they launch into gory details about so-and-so's house. I kindly but firmly interrupt and say "I don't ever watch those shows." Well, honestly, I hardly ever watch TV, but even if I did, I wouldn't. For me, rarely do I ever meet someone who doesn't actively seek me out to help with a mess. I don't look for the work, it finds me. I don't ever want to work for someone who doesn't personally want to change. I also find train wreck media in general low and well worth avoiding; it lowers my tolerance for others and lowers my ability to be compassionate. I don't need (or want) to say 'at least that's not me.' I have too many dear friends (not to mention myself) who struggle every day with stuff issues, no way am I going to point and stare. Here is what I say next.

Firstly, I don't even like the term "hoarder," especially when it's overused and little understood. Hoarders don't want to give any of their things up. Clutterers and creatives are overwhelmed and lack organization, and would start somewhere if they could figure out where, or find the energy or time. Sometimes I think it's my job to come in and plant a flag