I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: January, 2014

Shredding 26 Pounds

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Shedding the Past, Making Room for the Future

I just got rid of 26 pounds of documents that have been moldering in our basement.  Twenty-six pounds of old bills, tax returns, bank statements, insurance EOB’s, and god knows what else.  My husband, (I am sure rightly so), bought a shredder years ago to dispose of confidential documents and to protect against identity theft.  Our organizational system is to take documents that seem vaguely important to a milk crate in the basement that sits by the shredder.  Don’t ask me why the basement is the proper place for this questionable organizational strategy.  I can’t say that it works very well, because the pile just gets bigger and bigger and nothing actually gets shredded.  One year, probably 8 years ago and the last time anything was shredded, we convinced my son who would have been 6 or 7 at the time that it would be FUN to shred documents.  That lasted about an hour, maybe two, and produced anxiety that he would shred a finger by mistake.  It was not really worth it and we were never again able to persuade him that shredding was fun.  Even a six year old learns quickly that you have to unfold everything, remove the staples, and that forcing more than 3 pages jams the damn thing.  I went to Staples where they have a seemingly secure shredding system.  (Note to Staples:  The salespeople were not particularly friendly nor helpful, probably because they’re not trained well and not paid well – and I don’t understand why Godiva is sold at Staples.  Seems off brand to me.)  

I feel 26 pounds freer.

I don’t have a good filing system.  In addition to the pile of important and confidential documents dessicating in the milk crate in the basement, I have two piles in the front hall requiring immediate attention, piles of bills to be paid, recipes I want to cook, yoga lesson plans for my Thursday night class, newspapers and magazines with articles I am dying to read, but probably won’t before I give up and toss them into the pile of recycling.  Another two piles are hidden inside the beautiful chest in our front hall that my husband thought might inspire us to organize some of our clutter in.  Another six or seven (or twelve) piles surround the floor in our office/guest room that is now so cluttered that it cannot be used for either purpose.  A poor guest would be buried by the pile of clothes-to-be-donated that are sitting in purgatory on the futon bed.  The problem with this organizational strategy is that when I actually need to find something, like the yearbook order form for my daughter’s 12th grade yearbook (important!!!) or some obscure document for the annual tax filing ordeal (coming up!!!), it takes me hours of hunting through the various piles to find what I am looking for.  Or worse, my husband decides he needs something that has ended up in one of these piles and curses disbelievingly at how disorganized we are.  Yeah, like it’s a surprise.  We’ve been disorganized together for 20 years now. 

Neither one of us likes to spend time on organizing.  Somehow our lack of organization is always the other’s fault.  He keeps stuff because We-Might-Need-It-Someday or It-Still-Works.  I am more willing to throw things away, but I don’t because it takes time and decision-making and I have better things to do (like Achieve Greatness).  I am paralyzed by filing, unable to decide what categories to create.  The daughter of a hoarder and organizer-by-piling, I never learned any other way.  My father’s office was off limits because well, I am not sure why.  Forbidden because he didn’t want us to see what was there or forbidden simply because he wanted to control that space?  Under no uncertain terms was anyone allowed in that room.  It was a mess.  Piles of stuff that he wanted no one touching.  During a recent visit, there were 7 empty mouthwash bottles in the bathroom.  I know he had a good plan for using these bottles, but it was bordering on pathological (and laughable if it weren’t so sad).  He has hired a de-clutterer to help him.  I have suggested therapy, but I think it is too late.  He is increasingly overwhelmed with all his important-to-him make-work paper-work.

Perhaps his plight is behind my somewhat sudden and intense desire to free myself of clutter and attempt to become more organized.  I am terrified of ending up like him, obsessively and compulsively spending time on stuff that is not very important or not very effective, while ignoring housekeeping tasks or undervaluing the impact of a streamlined living environment.  I have always been drawn to modern simple de-cluttered spaces depicted so beautifully in home magazines, so foreign to how I live, begging the obvious question:  Where do they keep their stuff?  Sure, there is a lot of stuff when you are an active family of four, but couldn’t we do with less stuff?  Isn’t it time to shed what we don’t need? Especially as my daughter prepares to leave for college and we become a household of three.  Do we really need the toy room?  Perhaps it is time to shed what no longer serves me.

Creeping up on me quietly has been a desire for a serene room in which to write.  The beauty of the laptop is that I can write anywhere.  I usually write in the heart of the house where all the activity is, in the kitchen/family room area.  The parakeets are chirping and hopping on the keyboard, the tv is on, the kids ask for homework help, my husband practices guitar.  It is NOISY.  But I am not home very much so I like being accessible and I like being with my family.  Usually, I can focus and write amidst the activity.  But sometimes, like when I am working out a theme that might require some brave exposure and I want to do it respectfully, I need some peace and quiet.  Just what an office might provide.  Oh yeah! I have an office!  It just happens to be a junk room.  Some people have junk drawers, we have a junk room.  I quietly and gradually have decided that I need that space to be peaceful, clean, organized, and quiet.  I need to get rid of the junk, the clutter.  It’s a daunting task, that I expect will take me the year.  Or more.  But, gradually, I hope to shed the old stuff I don’t need, streamline the stuff I want to keep, and create an open and inviting haven where I feel calm and focused.  Who knows, maybe it will even become a space where guests feel welcome.

It’s A Good Thing?

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The Masks We Wear

Martha Stewart is an easy target.  She seems to have no idea how ridiculous she comes across in her ivory tower of affluence, kind of like Effie Trinket from the Capitol in The Hunger Games.  I haven’t paid close attention to Martha since she was convicted of lying in 2004.  I’ve been aware that she has managed to have continued and impressive business and media success post-jail-time.  I certainly believe in redemption and that people should be allowed second (and maybe even third) chances.  Whether Martha has redeemed herself is debatable.  Truly I don’t know her, other than the masked persona she presents to the public.  I should not pass judgment.

I did admire Martha during her heyday in the 90’s.  Her approach to keeping a beautiful home and her emphasis on the importance of gracious entertaining was completely foreign to me and my upbringing where it was a miracle that Chicken and Potatoes (or some variation thereof) appeared at the kitchen counter for dinner every evening from 6:30-6:40 pm with two introverted working scientist parents who were clueless about how to host a party and so they didn’t.  I wanted to cook delicious food, have friends over for elegant dinner parties, and fantasized about being as organized as Martha.  Her calendar, published every month in her magazine, amazed me.  She was the tastemaker of the day (and an extraordinary business woman).  When I got engaged, I begged my mother for her book, Weddings, to inspire my planning.  My mother scoffed, as she scoffed at my desire for a wedding dress, but I wanted my one and only big party of my then-young life to be happy, tasteful, beautiful, and I did not trust myself to plan it without Martha’s guiding aesthetic. 

Since then, my values have shifted and my Martha aspirations have faded, betrayed by her jail stint.  So, it was with mild curiosity that an article in Thursday’s NYT caught my eye.  (The print edition, of course.  Where else would you have the joy of discovering and reading about topics that you might not see otherwise?)  The article profiled Martha describing her beauty routine.  Wow.  The serums and potions, the variety of high end products used, in conjunction with daily, weekly, monthly sessions with a retinue of beauty service providers, like her facialist.  There was not a speck of humility or irony in this article.  No acknowledgement that she is incredibly lucky to have the time and money to live such a luxurious lifestyle and that most of us could never afford the products and services she uses.  And perhaps most of us would not choose to spend our money and time this way even if we could.  Though, wouldn’t it be nice to have the opportunity?

As I quickly jumped to judging Martha scornfully as ridiculous and irrelevant, I paused and backed up, asking why is the New York Times featuring this article anyway?  They must think there is an audience of women readers who will want to know what are the best skincare and beauty products we should all be using, according to Martha?  (Note to the New York Times, if you are interested in providing truly useful beauty service journalism, then a summary of the products mentioned would have been helpful.)  If Martha gets up hours before she needs to leave the house in order to slather creams on her face and body, should we all be doing that?   Just because my beauty regime consists of a shower and an occasional swipe of lipstick doesn’t mean all women are minimalists.  And maybe my ascetic and controlling minimalism is the flip side of the same coin.

Now, I am the first to acknowledge that appearances matter.  Plenty of studies have shown that attractive people are judged to be more competent and are more successful in life.  I’ve spent many days in my younger years panicking that I didn’t look “right.”  At this stage, I am a bit defiant about freeing myself from the constraints of time-consuming and money-consuming beauty regimes.  I would rather spend my money on healthy food, yoga and vacations with my family.  The article did make me wonder about the New York City audience that the NYT serves (myself included).  We take great pains to care about those less fortunate while we are thoroughly caught up in the striving, the effortful and materialistic striving to be on top.  Like Panem’s Capitol we are curiously bubbled, out of step with how the rest of the world lives.  Isn’t this the same newspaper that featured the plight of homeless children in a bid for reader attention and sympathy?  And now we are slavishly looking to Martha for beauty regimen how-tos?  Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

Women and society need to have the confidence that beauty comes from within and from how you behave.  It is more important to figure out how to look and feel your best so that you can be your best self and contribute the best of yourself to your world without getting caught up in being beholden to a public persona, a mask, that requires so much upkeep.   Imagine how much good we could do if we devoted the money and time we spend on beauty products and our effortful and materialistic striving to helping someone else, to making a meaningful and productive contribution to our community?

Choosing Laughter

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Choosing to be Happy

I embrace the austere clarity and hope that is January.  I long ago gave up impossible-to-achieve, all-or-nothing New Year’s resolutions (Stop picking cuticles!  Ashtanga every day!  No meat!  and my annual favorite:  Stop procrastinating!)  in favor of gentler incremental changes working towards unmasking my true self and living authentically.  My disciplined, achievement-oriented self finds it impossible to refrain from setting goals.  Indeed, goals and dreams are valuable for staying focused on what matters to you and not getting side-tracked by what matters to someone else.  As I reflected on last year’s goals and my genuine progress towards realizing them, I deliberated on where to focus my heart this year.  Last year’s list still resonates – how shall I deepen it?  After trying on several goals, I settled on one guiding intention for my year:  choose laughter.

At first, it was “laugh more.”  But this seemed vague and not really representative of my intention, and so I added the word “choose.”  To choose to laugh means to pause before reacting in order to decide to respond with thought and purpose.  It is a habit for me to complain, to worry, to be tired, to feel overwhelmed and anxious.  The mind can choose to be happy.  Can I break out of my old patterns and choose to laugh and be happy?

When heavy snow arrives, preventing my obligatory on-site presence in the office, can I choose to be grateful for the day at home with my family instead of worrying that I “should” be in the office?  My children are thrilled with the surprise of nature and laugh joyfully.  How can I learn from them?

When a colleague shows up at my office door, can I choose to smile at them welcomingly instead of scowling at them with how busy I am? 

When it’s time to undecorate from Christmas, can I choose to reflect on what a warm and relaxing holiday it was instead of feeling burdened by the work of cleaning up and depressed about the work of returning to work?

When several newbie yoga students show up to class in January, as part of their new year’s resolutions, can I make them feel comfortable instead of worrying about whether I can modify my class properly for a larger group?

When my children suggest an activity, can I say “Yes!” instead of “Not now, I need to do the laundry.”

My inclination toward laughter and delight has been suppressed all my life.  By a mother who hovered and worried, pegging me as sensitive and shy.  By a father who judged and withheld love and praise in favor of intellect and duty.  Resulting in an anxious perfectionist who chose solitary achievement over social laughter.

No more.

Choosing laughter means changing habitual behavior that no longer serves me.  Choosing to embrace what is and not wishing for it to be different.  Choosing a lighter response over a darker heavier, more judgmental emotion.  Choosing to be social.  After all, you need other people to really laugh out loud. 

My family has rallied behind this “resolution” with great zeal.  We’ve decided to have family joke night at our family dinner on Sundays where each person tells a joke.  I love this because I realize that women historically have not been encouraged to be joke-tellers resulting in the stereotype of the woman who can’t remember the punchline or tell a joke well.  I will pick one joke a week that makes me laugh out loud (no judgment!) and share it with my family (and tweet it that evening).

When my daughter cracks up uncontrollably, she closes her eyes and is overcome with the funniness.  She’s been sharing this side of herself more and nothing makes me happier than seeing her laugh.  Perhaps if I laugh more, she will too.

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