Living Slow: Season of Becoming

This post is in partnership with East Fork Pottery,  a company slinging hand-thrown, timeless pottery in Oregon using regionally-sourced stoneware clay. Their beautiful food-safe glazes are made in house and lend their pieces character, but in an unfussy and classic manner. The collection is, truly, a treasure trove.

It’s been a bit quiet here for the past week, which should be indicative of the fact that I’ve been restless in real life, struggling with a personal decision that’s difficult to make. Usually that’s how it is. Cyber silence equates to a madness that requires its own space and time. But I wanted to put thought to digital paper for a moment, as an observance of this period of growth.

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Last week, I was presented with an alternative job opportunity that, when on paper, holds better weight than my current position. However, there are some non-practical reasons why I want to keep my current position. Ultimately, it came down to production limited by the number of days, or production limited by fees. I had to consider adding a 1.5 hr  round-trip daily commute to my currently non-existent one in exchange for much easier work. I had to decide whether having newer and better materials that made my job easier was more important than sweeter and easier patients who made my job easier. I was pulled between something new and something familiar. It was a week full of angst, emotion, and pressure to make a decision. I sat by the window sill staring into space, deep in thought, reflection, and sometimes just straight up brooding. Tears were involved.

If I took the easier job that is farther away which has more difficult patients but newer materials, I would only work 2.5-3 days a week, and still make the same amount of production at 4 days a week. But when you add the hours of commute and subtract the amount of money spent on gas, those 3 days really equate to 3.6 days, and is that difference worth it. The physical work will be easier due to newer materials, but demanding patients increase the mental and emotional energy required to work. The gratitude will be centered around the ease of work, rather than meaningful work. Both cups are half-full. Which would you choose?

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The paradox of choice is real. Both options are starkly different, but both are also good. My husband pointed out that I couldn’t go wrong either way. It’s a fantastic position to be in. But the fear of choosing wrong is what cripples. If the opportunity didn’t present itself, it wouldn’t be hard for me to continue what I was doing. There would be a distant nagging of the things I could improve if the practice were my own, but I wouldn’t be restless like I am now. When there is an alternative, it is much harder to ignore what could be.

Equally crippling is the feeling that a choice needs to be made. If I am going to leave  the first office, it would be best to tell them as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the office of opportunity is waiting on the sideline, seeing if I would take their job offer. I think it’s hard to be in-between. The pressure prevents any real growth.

In my life, I‘ve tried to reduce choice in order to increase bliss. In general, it has worked very well. While I don’t like choicelessness, I like having reduced options. But I know making choices is the hard part of growth. So choices need to be made.

I have an evasive tactic that I turn to when faced with difficult decisions. I just pick one -the one that intuitively seems most appealing – and then I move on with my life. I do that because I know I can always pivot. I do that because I know that there are worse things to choose from, and that outcomes in general are not bad  in the grand scheme of things. But I also know that I do it to alleviate the guilt, stress, and responsibility of that choice. I am only ever choosing one real thing – to run a way from my own discomfort.

This has led me to even deeper consideration for things beyond the job itself. The job, it’s just a stage in my life. In the end, neither choice is perfect, but neither is also wrong. Both are transient, not one being the end point. But I’ve thought about my tendency to run when things get difficult. My wish to reduce, in order to ease. My need to asphyxiate in hopes of control. My obsession with doing, instead of just being.

I can say I’ve been much better the past two years. Slow living has been a great mentor in that. But this is one of those moments where I need to tell myself, “Wait“. Instead of searching for clarity, wait for the fog of emotions to roll out and clear. Instead of wishing to tell people about it, wait for them to ask you of your thoughts. Instead of trying to get every answer imaginable, wait for that inner knowing to surface from within. Stay to see what happens, instead of going to see where the river runs.

I came across this quote  from @trustandtravel’s Instagram, and it spoke.

“Do not fast-forward into something you are not ready for, or allow  yourself to shrink back into what’s comfortable. Growth lives in the uneasiness. The in-between. The unfinished sentence. You are a season of becoming.”

-Danielle Doby

Becoming is a hard thing. But it’s also necessary. So much of the time, we do, and therefore we are. But we never just “be”. How do we ever expect to become?

The espresso cups in soapstone are perfect for tiny hands, mid-afternoon espresso shots, as well as after dinner green tea. For the bold, sake shots and other libations fit well within this tiny vessel. We are very much in love with this cups and can only speak highly of the quality and the beauty of these products. They are not placed in cabinets with the other dinnerware but are on display on open shelving. Today only, East Fork will be having a Seconds Sale. A discount of 30% will be applied to a handful of clay goods that did not quite make the cut. Although with slight blemishes, these pieces are still functional and beautiful. I urge people who have been hankering for dinnerware to consider salvaging these pieces and including them in your home. I appreciate East Fork for their zero waste attempt. Seconds sale begins at 12pm EST, and pieces will go fast (or so I hope). This post contains affiliate links and TheDebtist may receive a commission if  you so choose to purchase.

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Prepping for a Mindful Holiday Season

It’s mid-November and I’m left wondering where the first half of the month went, let alone the majority of the year. It seems that as we age, our perception of time quickens,  as if a reminder that the time we have left dwindles. Perhaps this is why mindfulness becomes more relevant as we get older. Perhaps it’s why senility exists, as a pungent way to signal the world that we are focusing on the things that don’t really matter. I wonder if this blog brings that same sort of light, without the heartbreaking undertones of senescence. Hopefully, it has brought you something.

Today, I want to take the time, before holiday rush, to instill mindfulness in the home before good cheer takes away all thought in our fervent search for comfort and joy. Let us welcome the holiday season in all the right ways. We will be wishing and receiving all season long, which isn’t wrong per say, but I think it would behoove us to approach it with some serious thought so as to avoid the need to de-clutter and figure ourselves out all over again amidst the noise in 2020.

A few suggestions, nothing unheard of especially in this space, if I may.

  • Take stock. Make a mental note of everything you already own. Figure out ways in which they can do double duty in function. Find what is enough in your life, with an intention to add less.
  • Declutter. Always declutter. It seems my advice runs redundant but it signifies the habitual act of. Get rid of the noise distracting from the important parts of the holiday season. Hone in on what brings you true joy. Strengthen the ability to know what holds value and what does not. This will also help with the selection of which social obligations you commit to, lest you run amok trying to please everybody and not enjoying the season at all.
  • Write your wish list early. And then publish it late. In the meanwhile, edit, edit, edit. Treat your wish list like a draft. It’s similar to pausing prior to purchasing things. Sometimes, it’s even more important to do because of the ease with which we can ask for things. Sleep on it. Search the house for dopplegangers of stuff (are you asking for things you already own?). Prioritize, putting needs at the top and considering making do without the wants. Perhaps you’d like to request consumable giftsFor ideas, a simple holiday gift guide.
  • Focus on the non-material. Not just in gift-giving and wish-making, but also in the doing. Forego the stresses of perfect Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas mornings. Rather, revel in the gathering. Spend less time thinking about what to wear in to the holiday party and more time focusing on the conversations you wish to have. Et cetera. If you need a reminder, create an advent calendar for a slow holiday season. If you’d like to take it a step further, write a no-gifting letter or say no to Secret Santa.
  • Simplify. Instead of asking for ten things from one person, ask for one or two thereby lightening their need to make even more decisions. Instead of decking halls this year, maybe go bare to save you from entering 2020 with a large amount of un-decorating to do. Instead of ordering holiday cards, email a digital picture. There are many ways to simplify, some of which I’ve written about here and here.

I am always of the mind that we need to prepare for the holidays in different ways. In doing less and thinking more. It’s worth a try, in hopes that we all enter the new decade with truer joy, and a lot more peace.

 

Intentional Living: Speaking Less

I’ve been thinking lately about speaking less. The irony of using a post to share this does not escape me. But how many times a day do we fill our lives with useless words? Trivial commentary that gets us nowhere, rhetorical questions that waste one’s breath, small talk?

I think about questions specifically. We ask each other questions not because we are looking for knowledge but rather, permission. As kind as it is to seek permission, what it actually does is inflate the number of choices that need to be made.

For example, I noticed that I ask the following questions of my husband on the daily.

  • Is this enough food? (when piling on a plate)
  • Do you want to sit here? (when deciding where to perch at a restaurant, coffee shop or even at home)
  • What do you want to do today? (or tonight, this week, or weekend)
  • What do you want to eat for dinner? (or breakfast or lunch)
  • Do you want coffee this morning? (or tea in the evening)
  • Shall we watch something tonight? (when deciding what else to clutter our minds with)

All of these questions are not rhetorical and require a response.

All of them give him additional decisions to make.

All of them are quite unnecessary.

I think about how many more I ask at work. I think about how this asking affects our lives. As if we didn’t have enough decisions to make. It’s no wonder we live in overwhelm. By asking permission, we are creating more decisions to make. In our empathy, we are wasting brain power on making choices in a society already suffering from the paradox of choice.

It’s no wonder that children these days have no direction. There are too many choices to choose from and they are so busy choosing from an early age that they never learn how to focus on one. I hear parents ask children what they want to eat for dinner. I remember growing up and never being asked that question. We simply ate whatever was on the table. More brain-power for play time outdoors. I see parents asking kids what color backpack they want for the first day of school. My parents just went and purchased my supplies for us without even taking us to the store with them. More brain-power for focusing on getting ready for the Fall semester. I see parents proudly say that their kids chose what to wear today. I wore a uniform until middle school. Think of the brain power it takes to have a kid decide what to wear, then compare them self socially with what their desk mate wore, then go home and look to their closet and see what they can wear the next day to be at least equal with their desk mate.  With Christmas around the corner, I bet kids will be writing down their lists. I didn’t write a list for my family until I was thirteen years old. My parents just bought us what they think we would want, or better yet, what we needed.

It’s no wonder college students have no idea what they want to do in life. A majority of them go to undergrad undeclared. When I was in undergrad ten years ago, half of my friends had switched majors before graduating. My own brother switched direction AFTER undergrad. Many younger people get multiple masters in different fields. Some of my closest high school friends didn’t figure out what they wanted to do until they were 25. In dental school, a quarter of the dental students had switched careers. We had engineers, doctors, lawyers, with the oldest student in his 50’s. There is simply too many choices to make.

We have created this fallacy that we live in a world where we are free to choose. But we are constantly making choices, and we have lost the freedom to accomplish much of anything else.

It’s no wonder we get home at the end of a work-day exhausted. Then to have to answer if the food on the plate is enough?! Why do we waste such energy?

I am trying to be better. I am trying to simply put food on the plate, and accept that if he wants more, he will go back for seconds. I am going to just pick a spot to sit. If he wishes to sit elsewhere, I will trust that he will say so. I am simply going to make a batch of coffee and pour half into my cup. If he ends drinking the other half, I can make a second batch if needed. Instead of asking what he wants to do this weekend, I will tell him what I would like to do and see what he responds with.

We don’t need to speak so much.

If we truly want to practice empathy, let us empathize with the excess that we all already deal with.

Let us reduce the overwhelm so that we can reserve our brain waves for the decision-making that is more important.

Intentional Living: A Sample Morning Routine

Firstly, a mere word on routines. Routines are founded on habits, and part of habit creation requires that one just bites the bullet and trains the self to have muscle memory. I was not born with great habits, nor am I always good about them. Habits continually shift, depending on your needs of the season. In my case, it’s due to an ever-changing philosophy. My list undergoes a remodeling quite frequently. I find that I work best when my habits have triggers – events that remind me to do something. Additionally, I have found that the reward system does not work well on me. I don’t care for rewards too much, so they are not good motivators. The best motivator for me lies in the doing. An afternoon in idleness makes me glum, so routines help me stray from that negative territory. Pursuit of happiness, et al. Of course, your routine formation and motivations may be different. This difference will change the way your routines are made, or even which ones you end up adopting. When I list my routines here, it is not the end-all by any means. Consider it just a sharing of what I do.

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For me, my morning routine looks like this:

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays

  • 6am – Trigger: Theo the cat meowing –> Habit: Get up to feed the cat.
  • 6:01am – Trigger: Turn on the kettle on the stove –> Habit: Don’t go back to bed, lest you forget the kettle.
  • 6:05 am – Trigger: Kettle has hot water –> Habit: Make a pour over to take back to bed.
  • 6:10 am – 6:20 am – Trigger: Coffee in hand –> Habit: Sip on coffee and stare out the bedside window as the world wakes. Daydream, plan the day, reminisce on the past, what have ye.
  • 6:20am – Trigger: Coffee is awakening the senses  –> Habit: Read a book or write.
  • 7 am – Trigger: Mike starts his shower –> Habit: Get up and start putting last night’s dishes away and preparing breakfast
  • 7:20 am – Trigger: Mike gets out of the shower –> Habit: Eat breakfast together, pack lunches
  • 8:00 am – Trigger: Mike leaves for work –> Habit: Yoga session
  • 8:45 am – Trigger: Yoga is over –> Habit: Wash the morning dishes, sweep the floors, clean the house
  • 9:00am – Trigger: Dirty from cleaning and yoga –> Habit: Get ready for work.

Leave for the dental office at 9:00am.

Tuesdays and Thursdays

  • 6am – Trigger: Theo the cat meowing –> Habit: Get up to feed the cat.
  • 6:01 am – Trigger: Pull out the mixer –> Habit: Mix bread
  • 6:15am – Trigger: Bread mixed –> Habit: Make Coffee
  • 6:30am – Trigger: Need to add salt to dough –> Habit: Read afterwards or write
  • 7am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: Start making breakfast
  • 7:30am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: Eat breakfast and prep lunches
  • 8am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: Yoga session
  • 8:30 am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: write, write, write
  • 9am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Habit: More blog work
  • 9:30am – Trigger: Need to turn dough –> Finish computer work.
  • 10am – Trigger: Shape dough –> Habit: Start the rest of the day

The reward is  singular and the same: A productive morning by the time the day actually starts.

If you are having difficulty with changing habits, sometimes it is best to rely on others to make us accountable. Why not try creating a habit with a group? Lastly, in order to create a habit, one must have belief – in the cause, as well as the ability to change.

Care to share your morning routines?

Need help making one? May I suggest the following resources: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.

 

Frugal Challenge: Practice Minimalism

In my life (as it is now), minimalism came first. By practicing minimalism, everything good in my life fell into place, financial clarity being one of them. Every time I choose a life of less stuff, I enforce a habit of not relying on external stimuli to make me feel whole. I am also deconstructing a fallacy that we were taught from birth, one that says we can buy our way to happiness. Minimalism is, after-all, a modern by-product of Zen teachings on how happiness resides within ourselves and the worlds our minds create. Any external stimuli only prevents us from tapping into our inner state of calm or peace by acting as a distraction from true happiness. Without the material things to distract me, I am able to focus on the more important (non-material things) in my life, such as paying down $575k in student debt! I can confidently say that I would not have been as successful with finding frugality and working towards financial independence without first practicing the art of saying Goodbye, Things.

My frugal challenge for the month of October is to start practicing minimalism. After all, it goes hand-in-hand with frugality. Practicing minimalism can cut down costs in many ways. Here are a few!

  • LESS SHOPPING, ERGO LESS SPENDING: After you’ve de-cluttered a lot of your items, you will naturally develop a hesitancy with buying something again (unless it’s something you realized you really need or want). The de-cluttering process, when done right, is a tedious process for the average American because of how much stuff we tend to accumulate. I guarantee that once you’ve really pared down, buying things is not as attractive as it once was, which means you will spend less money on shopping.
  • LESS STUFF MEANS LESS LIVING SPACE: Having less things allow for a smaller home, which usually leads to cheaper rent! Many minimalists find that once they are freed from the burden of material objects, they are suddenly free to live alternative lifestyles, such as pursuing the small space movement! Housing is one of the largest expenses in most people’s budget, so reducing the cost of housing will greatly catapult your path towards financial freedom.
  • LESS UNNECESSARY SPENDING FOR REPAIRS AND REPLACEMENT. Minimalism is a lesson in being grateful for the things we already have. Because minimalists surround themselves with only their most beloved things, they are more likely to preserve, mend, and fix a broken thing than they are to throw it away and replace it. They aren’t going to buy things for convenience sake and they are more invested in maintenance. Because of this, they save more money.
  • LESS KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES’S: Minimalists do not participate in keeping up with the Jones’s. In fact, they think the Jones’s are making a dying, rather than making a living. And minimalists prefer to live life rather than work themselves to death in order to buy material goods. And since minimalists do not participate in upward social comparisons, they are not as easily influenced or frequently bombarded by and with advertisements. They aren’t called upon to be consumers. And if they are, the calling is easily ignored. Overall, they don’t spend money in order to keep an appearance. Minimalists save their dollars, preferring to build wealth rather than build social status.
  • LESS STRESS RELIEF BINGES. When we are stressed, we tend to spend in order to make ourselves feel better. We want to take a vacation to run away from stressful work. We go out to drink during happy hour after a difficult 8-5. We binge on food and eat our misery away. We even have retail therapy. A practice in minimalism leads to more space physically, emotionally, and mentally. Minimalism reduces stress by reducing the external stimuli in our environments. With all this Zen, there is less cost dedicated to stress relief practices.
  • NO EXPENSIVE FRIVOLOUS EVENTS. Minimalists do not want to celebrate big life events with lavish parties, nor do they want to receive a tower of gifts. What will they do with all of this stuff? I may be speaking for myself, but my ideal celebration involves people and homemade food in a warm setting. I like gatherings in small spaces because you can feel the presence of others and there’s no nooks and crannies to hide in and stare lovingly into your phone. A good example of this was our wedding. We got married in an empty warehouse and the decor was handmade. My father tied gold streamers onto a string, and I made a backdrop for the photobooth area. My aunt collected wild flowers and put them in vases, and Mike’s grandmother made cookies and her famous magic bars. Our friends provided local beer for the reception as their wedding gift. We hired a taco truck and had donuts for desert. I’d imagine the same would go for children’s parties, funerals, graduation, & c. No frivolous events means no expensive events!

These are just a few ways that minimalism can help build a frugal lifestyle. The truth is, minimalism goes a step further than frugality. When I became a minimalist, I reduced the distractions in my life. I honed in on who I was and what made me happy. Because of this recently tapped in energy, I performed better at work and increased my income. I then found a few interests that became side hustles (writing being one of them). This further allowed me to make more money. And as I became happier, I also became less dependent on buying my way to happiness. My work made me happy, and I funneled even more time into my passions. And so the cycle snowballed, and slowly, our debt repayment changed from 25 years to 10 years to 9 year, to 7 years, to hopefully less than 6 years! All because I got rid of my things.

As all minimalists argue, if minimalism involves shedding physical burdens in the form of material possessions in order to be liberated to live the life that really matters, why isn’t is called maximalism? Frugal maximalism.

Intentional Living: A Separate Peace Space

Growing up, I thought working from home would be a dream. However, I craved it not unaware of its demons, too. When I was fifteen years old, my father who had always worked in a small cubicle as a sales engineer began working from home. Some benefits of this change included nixing the daily commute, always having a pitcher of brewed coffee at arm’s reach, having access to isolation or silence when needed, avoiding work drama, and having a flexible schedule that made him available when we kids needed him. Ironically, its shortcomings also include having a fridge full of food at arm’s reach, having family drama, and always needing to be available once the kids got home from school. I watched him struggle between sitting down to get a block of work done and getting up to complete a list of chores before my mom got home. I saw him cringe every time the dog barked as one of us strolled through the door while he was taking a conference call. He prepped breakfast and lunches in the morning between emails, spilled coffee around his work laptop, and took breaks a few too many times walking the dog and turning on the TV.

So here I am, fifteen years later, double the age I was then (GULP!), following in my father’s footsteps. When I’m not at my dental office taking care of teeth, I am working from home as a writer for this blog and other blogs, and an at-home baker for a bakery that I dreamt up out of nothing. Sometimes, my writing gets interrupted by a mid-morning snack, while other times I feel the need to complete household chores in between bread turns. I am going through similar difficulties with creating a healthy work environment at home as my father before me.

Of course, the situation looks much different for a person without kids. I can find silence easier, have more isolation, am without the family drama, and have a flexible schedule. It helps that one of my days off lands on a weekday while the other members of our household are out of the home, giving me full reign over my own space. Yet it still takes a certain level of discipline to resist the calling of a sink full of dirty dishes, the running of a vaccuum, or the organizing of an entire home … a discipline which is not as strong as I would like for it to be. It requires a delicate balance for switching on and switching off. For the sake of productivity, it is important (for me) to follow a set number of guidelines that create a division between my work environment and my home environment, the most important of which I suggest here. A separate space, for a separate peace.

Create A Designated Work Zone

The best part about going to work is the fact that the environment you enter is strictly professional. You dress professionally, act professionally, and speak professionally. At home, however, you are dressed in your sweats, you act as if no one is watching, and you mutter curses under your breath. When your work zone consists of a bed or a couch rather than a designated desk, the productivity greatly decreases lest you feel too comfortable in the sheets or fall asleep amongst the pillows. And just as we isolate ourselves to a place of work when we commute, it is equally important to isolate our work to a designated space when we don’t. The physical boundaries between work and home are imperative. My father struggled because his work desk was at our dining table, where us kids always gathered to eat, do homework, and watch TV. He set his laptop in the middle of our home to be more involved with family life, not realizing how much it disrupted professional life. I am lucky in that the distractions are much less when I type from the edge of a dining table. A table itself is my designated space. Whether it be at the edge of the dining table, at my husband’s unoccupied gaming desk, or on the table on our patio, the designation itself lies in the physical object. When it comes to baking, it is even easier since I must work within the confines of my kitchen.

Keep a Tidy Space

The habits that make up a creative space certainly includes tidyness. Keeping a tidy space helps with clearing the mind. The less the mind has to process, the less it is distracted, and the more open it is to insight, imagination, and order – all ingredients to productive creativity. This is part of the reason why I keep bare walls in my home. Since it is also my work space, I need it to be conducive to work. The same goes for when I bake. I need to first put away everything in the kitchen that does not involve baking. I cannot bake for the bakery and cook my own meals at the same time. Once dishes are used for the bakery, I have to wash them right away, which is unlike my methods when I cook for myself. Tidyness is a bigger key to a successful at-home work environments than most people think.

Be Near the Light

When I listed my three favorite places to write, I listed the three areas in our home closest to natural light. It has been said that light positively affects our mood and productivity due to our intrinsic, age-long connection with its presence and however apocryphal that may be, I would agree that when it comes to creative work, this is especially true and applicable to me. When it’s dark and gloomy, my mind tends to cloud over too. I lose the heat that makes my joints want to move. When there’s light, I feel motivated and inspired. So I set myself up for success each time. I choose work spaces that feed my creative soul. I position myself wherever there is the most sun, pull back the blinds, pull aside the windows, and shun the dark. And then, I begin.

Respect Timelines

This is by far the best advice when it comes to setting a boundary between work and play. It is also the most difficult boundary to achieve. A certain level of resilience is required in order to successfully switch on and off between tasks. I’m the first to admit that I fail sometimes. It’s so easy to think of something to write about and to ignore the time set aside for reading a book before bed in order to chase that thought. It is easy to all of a sudden accept a bakery order because you are at home anyway, technically available to bake, even if it means sacrificing your personal time. I’ve cancelled staycation plans, plans to watch a movie at home with my husband, coffee dates with colleagues, all because something came up “at work”. But working at home means that you DO have the final say. You ARE in control. Until you ignore all timelines, and then you are not. Something that I have learned but have still yet to master. My suggestion? Be intentional with your timeline rules. Be strict and treat yourself as both an employee and a boss by holding yourself accountable. Learn how to say no. Learn how to switch off. It takes great will power to create mental barriers, but create them we must, or else we may fail to create at all.

How about you guys? I would love to hear of ways in which you create a boundary between work and play. Feel free to comment below!

Words of Affirmation

Some days just don’t turn out right.
The bottom of the bread burned,
You didn’t meet the patient’s expectations,
The oat milk flowed over the latte mug,
It might as well be
The sun didn’t rise.

For a moment you feel all the disappointment,
You worry about the loss,
You apologize for the short coming,
You clean up the mess.
Then the moment passes
You’re standing on your own two feet.

It is here you see the sliver of sun.
How good is life that you can connect with bread,
Help others heal,
Make art in your drink.
How good is life that you had a choice
About how to spend it
And how to react
And who to be.

Rise my darling.
You are the sun.
You make the light.
It’ll be all right.

De-cluttering Photos

The past few weeks have been spent revisiting the act of de-cluttering. I came to the realization that while I followed Marie Kondo’s rules about the severity with which to get rid of stuff and the order in which to let go of items, I never did really finish the work. Sure, I de-cluttered my stuff. It was easy to “touch up” on the physical things, since I no longer own many clothes or books. Our furniture and rooms are sparse. The kitchen items increased in volume after the wedding with gifts that I now regret adding to the registry but those were quite easy to acknowledge and forgive. It took less than half an hour to reaffirm the bathroom has only what we need. In the physical realm, it was easy to make everything right.

However,  there are two categories that still remained untouched – digital clutter and sentimental items. Marry the two together, and I am now faced with the sorting of digital photos with a sudden realization that I am a photograph hoarder. I have always had a careless way with the camera, snapping picture after picture desperate to freeze moments in time. Likewise, I struggle with letting these so-called memories go. Many excuses come to mind, such as, “What if I write a blog post about that sometime?”, or “How will I keep track of every place we’ve ever traveled to?”. “What if I need more photos to showcase my bread?”, or “What if I get forgetful one day and want to remember even the smallest span of time?” I didn’t know until now how much attachment I felt towards pixels on a screen.

Which goes to show, I suppose, that it comes as both a blessing and a curse that the work is never quite done. You think you’ve reached a level of understanding about the world and yourself, and then you find some little part of your life you haven’t quite looked at before and discover still more improvements to be made. It’s a curse that personal growth never reaches an end because we spend our whole lives trying to figure ourselves out. But on the flip side, it’s a blessing because … what else would we do if we already knew everything?

Besides, we cannot maintain a level of understanding if we stop trying to understand. The world will change and us along with it, and the worst one can do is assume they’ve got everything figured out and stand still. How can WE figure it out when a lineage of ancestors could not? Surely, the beauty lies in the process.

Speaking of process, there I was the past few days, making grueling work out of organizing photos and getting rid of 80% of them (which was hardly enough as evidenced by five different storage drives) when yesterday, on my day off when I thought I would get the most work done, my memory card became corrupt and was reformatted. Which in layman’s terms meant that all data was lost. I couldn’t believe it. It was like some wind had come and swept everything I worked hard for away from me. Oh the lessons life had yet to teach.

When I finally overcame the grief thirty seconds later, I realized with shock the relief that overcame me. The heartache of the last few days’ work turned into excitement, when I realized there were less days ahead being wasted sorting that stuff out. I realized quite quickly how disengaged I was from those photos, how little of my heart they truly held. I had organized snapshots to keep, ones filled with smiling faces and beautiful scenery, but when they were gone I found that it didn’t take away from the fact that they’ve touched me somehow. I think losing all of that proved to me that our memories are not tied to paper or lit up screens. And if one day, I do become completely incapable of memory, well, then maybe I will finally learn to live in the present moment without anything to hold me back.

There are still 4 more hard drives to address. But after losing one fifth of my work, I continue the task with a lighter heart and an easier mind as I press the delete button with more frequency and delight. I will still enjoy taking photos, but the joy will remain in the act of taking photos themselves. By the time the images become registered, it would have already served its purpose. I finally understand what Marie Kondo was trying to say when it comes to de-cluttering photos.

“With this method you will only keep about five per day of a special trip, but these will be so representative of that time that they will bring the rest back vividly. Really important things are not that great in number. “

I’d like to keep that last part on repeat.