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Letting go of guilt: Letters from Tim

Confession time.

In my basement, I have five large Rubbermaid storage containers of invaluable paper items: old diary entries, colored pencil sketches of Pokemon, random essays from 10th grade English class, and faded movie stubs, among other things. I was fully prepared to take my own advice from my previous post about paper clutter. How hard could it be? I hadn’t looked at any of these things in over a year. Do I REALLY need fifty drawings of horses from my blue period (which is of course, the period in which I only used a blue marker for these sketches. I was an artist, after all)?

I gave myself a limit: I could only keep what would fit into one small filing box.

It was easy at first. Truly, one does not need a w-2 from their first job at the strip mall in 2003. Or utility bills from two apartments ago. These things were easy to toss. I struggled here and there with the odd paper stub or photograph that reminded me of a distant memory. If I never see this paper again, will I forget it ever happened? The photos usually made it to the “save for scanning” pile, but the random mementos from old school field trips were quickly tossed. I am not likely to forget what the Washington Monument looks like without a brochure from a museum. But then, I reached the Letters from Tim, and I was catapulted back to the fall of 8th grade.

Tim was a small, bespectacled fourteen-year-old boy who played the xylophone behind me during band practice. I had finally decided to grow out my bowl-cut bangs and experiment with shimmery eyeshadow. Tim had a crush on me, I had a crush on his best friend, and his best friend was dating my best friend. So it goes.Over the course of about a month, Tim sent me several letters detailing his feelings for me and asking me to go out with him. The first was written on a restaurant place-mat, and delivered via his best friend in a sealed plastic tape case. I almost expected it to self-destruct after I read it. But it didn’t.

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I played it cool, and ignored him. Because that’s what you do when you’re 14. My friends weren’t any help; they egged him on, suggesting he write me a note with all of the qualities he thought I possessed, like it was somehow going to help him get a date with me. He did, it didn’t, but I was flattered anyway.

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I finally crafted a short but fairly polite note explaining that the feelings he expressed were not mutual. I just wanted to be friends. We typed it on my friend’s new computer; I even kept a copy. I thought that would be the end of it.

But then, he gave me one more letter, right before Christmas break, 1999.

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 Tim was hurt. He didn’t understand why I didn’t want to go out with him. He didn’t understand why girls always rejected him. I’ll stay single from now on, he wrote. If a girl does ask me out, I’m just gonna say “no” from now on. Then they might get the idea that they know how I feel when I get put down. He was sick of me and my hurtfulness, sick of his family for annoying him, and sick of our town. He alluded to plans of running away, or committing suicide by being hit by a car. But he ended the letter cheerfully, with a  Well I gotta go now! See ya! with friendly bubbles over the exclamation points.

I considered telling an adult. Was he actually threatening to run away? Jump in front of a car? But at the time, I didn’t think he was serious, just lonely. He didn’t have many friends.

So, I did nothing but vow to be a little nicer to him.

We returned for the spring term as though nothing had happened. We talked during band practice, but he kept his distance. His parents divorced, and he moved in with his mom two towns over, right before our 8th grade graduation. We never spoke again.

That summer, I saw an article in the paper with a big picture of Tim’s face. He had been riding his bicycle to Wal-Mart for a spare part, when he was struck and killed by a car at a red light.

My friends assured me that Tim’s accident, as tragic as it was, had nothing to do with the letter he had written me. But every time I stumble across Tim’s Letters, the guilt rises to the surface and I question it. What if I had just agreed to one date? What if I had just talked to him nicely from the beginning, instead of ignoring him and letting it go on for so long? What if I had been nicer to him? What if I had told someone about his vague threats? Would it have made a difference? Was his accident really an accident at all? Or something he had been planning for years?

Of course, I’ll never get the answers to these questions.

Regret is a funny thing. Looking back, I know 14 year old me wouldn’t have done anything differently. I was under no obligation to go on a date with a boy I didn’t like. Could I have been nicer to him? Sure. I could be nicer to a lot of people. I didn’t tell an adult because it felt like he shared a secret with me, and it wasn’t my secret to tell. I didn’t want to tattle on something that was innocent, and make his life worse than it already was.

I’ve carted these letters around for more than a decade. I kept them because I did not want to forget a boy whose life ended too soon. I owed it to him to keep these letters, to keep some piece of him alive in that way.

Many of us have Letters from Tim in our closets. Painful reminders of past guilt. But the truth is, holding on to these things does nothing but prevent us from fully moving forward with our lives. They keep us stuck in the past. And that’s no way to honor someone’s memory.

I can’t change what happened. I can’t change the actions or choices of a teenage me. I will never know the truth, but that’s okay. I will never forget Tim, but I refuse to carry around this burden any longer. Today, I’m releasing my guilt. Are you going to release yours?

 

 

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Inspiration Corner: Tiny Houses

If you have Netflix, I encourage you to check out a documentary called Tiny: A Story about Living Small.

“TINY is a documentary about home, and how we find it.

The film follows one couple’s attempt to build a “tiny house” from scratch, and profiles other families who have downsized their lives into homes smaller than the average parking space.

Through homes stripped down to their essentials, the film raises questions about good design, the nature of home, and the changing American Dream.”

In this documentary, Christopher Smith is a late 20-something on a journey to find himself by building a tiny house with his bare hands, and live in it on a 5 acre plot of land in Colorado. Tiny houses are just that: houses that are built to last as long as a traditional home, but are only 80-400 square feet. They are usually on wheels, in order to circumvent building codes. People who live in tiny houses are often environmentally conscious, as living in a tiny house cuts down significantly on the ecological waste that a traditional home produces. They are also simplifying their lives: you simply can’t have a ton of stuff in a tiny house. This frees up their time and resources for other pursuits, such as spending time with family, enjoying nature, or just enjoying life to the fullest without all the extra crap that we assume we need for every day life.

While you’re watching the documentary, entertain these questions:

  • What would my tiny house look like?
  • What would my essential items be?
  • Where would I live?
  • Who would be with me?
  • How else could I spend my money? Would I have a different job?
  • How would I spend my time, if I only had to clean and organize 100 square feet worth of stuff?

If you’re feeling demotivated, spend some time with the last one. What could you be doing if you got rid of 90% of your belongings, TODAY? What would life be like? How much fun could you be having RIGHT NOW if you didn’t have to squeeze xyz out of a few minutes of peace?

Maybe living in a tiny house isn’t your dream. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your stuff, I encourage you to take an hour or two to watch Tiny (On Netflix, iTunes, or DVD), or check out some of the blogs from other Tiny house creators here and here.

 

Parenting and Minimizing: Do’s and Don’ts

When I was nearing the very end of my pregnancy with Mac, I went through a pretty intense nesting phase in which I wanted to GET RID OF ALL OF THE THINGS. I didn’t, however, since it’s kind of difficult to climb out of the attic at 9+ months pregnant. I do miss the large chunks of time in which I was intensely focused on cleaning and organizing. Time is hard to squeeze out of the day with a 7 month old. And, as Mac grows and becomes more active, these chunks of time will become even shorter. So, here are my do’s and don’ts of trying to tackle your clutter with kids:

  • DON’T make excuses.
    • Being a parent is a hard, 24/7 job. It’s even harder if you have crap everywhere. But there will always be a million excuses as to why you can’t possibly tackle the problem, and having kids is not one of them (Okay, it totally is, but it doesn’t HAVE to be). “I’m too busy! I have too many activities to drive my kids to! I have to spend all my time cleaning!” etc etc. Stop it. We’ll figure it out together.
  • DO give yourself a break!
    • Being a parent is hard! It’s amazing how quickly a day goes by before you realize you accomplished nothing but get out of bed and have a cup of coffee. (Go you! Small victories!)
    • There are no “minimalism awards.” If your ultimate goal is to be able to spend more time with your kids and less time organizing your crap, remember that. Every hour that you spend downsizing will reward you with hours of free time in the future. Stay focused on your goals.
  • DON’T bite off more than you can chew.
    • A 30 minute baby power nap is not enough time to go through your bursting catch-all crap closet. TRUST ME. You know your kids. If they can sit through a 30-minute episode of Spongegbob, you have 30 minutes to tackle something. If they can only handle 10? Plan accordingly. No point pulling all your crap out, only to have to shove it all back in again.
  • DO break big projects into small chunks.
    •  Use the 20/10 cleaning tip. You’d be surprised what you can accomplish in 20 minutes.
    • Take a closet one section or shelf at a time. Only pull out the contents of one shelf, make decisions about each item (toss, donate, sell).
    • Make sure that anything that leaves the closet ends up in its permanent most useful location! If you cannot find a home for it, does it belong in your house at all?
  • DON’T give up.
    • If you want more for your life and freedom from your stuff, you have to put the work into getting rid of it. You got yourself into this mess, but you can get yourself out. Nobody is hopeless.
  • DO make a plan.
    • Having kids means you might have to take things at a slower pace. Even if you only get through one box a day, that’s one less box you have to move. One less box weighing you down. One less box you’re spending time stressing out about.
    • Schedule time for minimizing each day. Even if it’s only 30 minutes, make time. Even 5-10 minutes here and there will help. (Examples, clean out the medicine cabinet while the kids are in the bath. Tackle a kitchen drawer while you’re making coffee. Toss clothing while you’re doing laundry. etc)
    • Enlist help. Can your spouse hang out with the kids while you finish a 45/15? Can your kids spend the day at grandma’s so you can finally tackle the garage? Can your kids spend the day at grandma’s while your spouse helps you tackle the garage?
    • Write your de-cluttering goals in big, bold letters on a piece of paper and hang it up somewhere you’re likely to see it (the fridge, the bathroom, your bedroom mirror, etc). “I will spend more time enjoying my kids” “I will be free from clutter” “I will not give up” “I am not my stuff”.

 

I realize that every situation is different. Despite my strong desire to throw out all of my things and start over, becoming a mom has made me more sentimental about my things, which I didn’t think was even possible. The most important thing is to focus on your goals, and make a plan that’s unique to your life. And remember, you own your stuff, it doesn’t own you!

Dealing with Emotional Attachment, Part 1: The Dress

It all started with a dress.

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Photo Credit: My dear friend Nicole Z.

That’s me in the middle there, on my wedding night, surrounded by so many of my closest friends (aren’t they fabulous?). The dress is a 2009 Betsey Johnson, and I spent weeks looking for it. It fit perfectly, I looked so fierce in it, and every time I passed it in my closet, I was reminded of this wonderful time.

True life: I attach unnecessary emotional attachment to inanimate objects. This dress is more than a dress; it’s a memory. It’s PART of me. I save everything. Concert tickets, movie stubs, pebbles from the Grand Canyon from that trip I took with my mom when I was 11. Each time I look at these objects, I am transported back to the time and place attached to the object.

 

If I get rid of the item, I am afraid I will lose the memory. 

 

This fear is intense. Some people are afraid of spiders, I’m afraid of losing all of my memories. Which, thinking about it logically, is nuts. I mean, how could I ever forget this time? It was one of the greatest days of my life!

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Photo Credit: My dear friend Sarah F.

Now here’s the tricky part. A piece of clothing is still technically functional. I could still technically wear it somewhere some day, right? Right. Except:

  • I had a baby 7 months ago and my bones aren’t in the same place. It’s unlikely the dress would fit again soon, if ever.
  • It’s white. I’m a stain magnet and I don’t tan.
  • The only semi-formal events I’m likely to be attending in the near future are weddings, wedding related activities, or baby showers. This dress is not really appropriate for any of those situations.
  • During the last song of the night, a particularly raucous rendition of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” I partially busted the zipper in the back.

Now, instead of a beautiful memory, all I could see was a partially broken, ill-fitting, poofy yet beautiful designer dress, taking up space in my closet.

So I sold it. 

I sold it for $13 to a little consignment shop in the next town. And now, somebody else will be able to make beautiful memories with it. To treasure it, as I have. Or to wear it once and have a fabulous time. After all, it is just a dress.

Overcoming Obstacles

When it comes to cleaning and organizing our spaces, we all have challenges.

Whether you’re the kind of person who obsessively scours your bathroom with a toothbrush for four hours a day, you’re a lazy channel surfer who hides pizza boxes under your couch, or somewhere in between, we all have challenges.

There will always be a million reasons why your house is a mess. A millions reasons there’s a mountain of stuff in the garage. A million reasons why you can never find the time to go through it all and live in the perfect happy and healthy space for your family.

Of course, I am not exempt. Some of my challenges are:

  • I have a baby!
  • No time!
  • No storage space!
  • No money for fun Pinterest projects!
  • No money in general!
  • Lazy!
  • Busy!
  • I love all my things like children!
  • Nobody ever taught me how to properly clean!
  • If it’s going to get messed up again in five minutes, why bother?
  • Where do I start?!

I will address each of these challenges, and many more in subsequent posts, because I feel like at one time or another in my life, I’ve come across someone who could benefit from fixing one (or more) of these and other issues. You can either make excuses and continue living the way you’ve always lived in the habits you’ve created in the environment you’ve built for yourself, or you can follow steps to change it. Your choice.