Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mental Margarita from June 26, 2008

Although I love making pictures around here (so pretty! always changing!) I am really looking forward to next week: Florida. (So no post, probably. Did you know I was posting weekly now? It's true - I'm telling the story of our grand adventure. Check it out!)

I notice the evolution of my photography seems to be that I'm getting a lot closer to things, and therefore, slightly more abstract. I like that sometimes it's not clear what the image is - just that the lines are arresting, or the colors or patterns are interesting. Look Ma, I'm growing!

PS - One more thing about the weather for all you Phoenicians: Last weekend we were in the car, sunroof open, windows cracked, but I was hot. I told Raymond, he said he was, too. Then I looked at the temperature gauge: 72. We cracked up! And wisely discarded the notion of calling our AZ friends and whining about how hot we were. You're welcome.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Part 2 – The Releasing

If you ever decide to chuck it all to go on an adventure, I recommend using an estate sale specialist. They know how to price items, they advertise the event, they organize the merchandise, and they run the actual sale.

We interviewed three estate sale companies. The first two came through to assess our stuff and sniffily informed us that we didn’t have enough stuff. (One of them actually used the word “clutter.” We didn’t have enough clutter. I took it as a compliment.) The third person who came over was our angel, Kathy Dubs ( She didn’t mind our lack of clutter typical for an estate sale, and was sensitive and appropriate to our grief at leaving and letting go. I think because she often works with people who are releasing a deceased loved one’s items, she was really gentle with us. She recognized our different kind of loss.

In hiring an estate sale person, besides the obvious benefit of not having to do all that work yourself, you are also spared the overwhelming feelings as you watch people pick over the 90% of the stuff that you’ve chosen to let go. You don’t have to watch favorite items go to a stranger. You don’t have to listen to someone haggle down something you once valued. You don’t have to see your friends come through and have their own reactions to your move.

On the morning of the sale, we left a house full of our things tagged and laid out on tables, with people beginning to show up and rummage through the stuff of our lives. We returned later that day to find most of gone. Although we knew what to expect, it was still mildly shocking. Seeing the emptiness of our home, made the adventure, the future, become that more real. The anxiety and sadness that preceded the sale were replaced with excitement and a definite sense of freedom. We were really doing this! There was no turning back now.

The stuff that remained went to charity. And as time went on, we would occasionally hear from friends that they had the bed, and loved it, or another who had the chiminea, and it was featured on the patio, or someone else had the bookshelf on which they stored their treasures. All of them let us know that they used those things, and thought of us. It touched my heart to know the things we had once loved, things though they were, were still being used and appreciated.

In exchange for letting it all go, we gained our freedom.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mistakes Were Made Part 1: The Sorting

The thing that was tricky about preparing to leave was that the future was rather uncertain. (Truthfully, when is it not?) But in this case, we didn’t enjoy the usual illusion of certainty. We didn’t know how long we were going for, we didn’t know when or even if we were coming back to Phoenix. We didn’t know what we’d need soon, or later when we settled down, whenever that would be.

When I used to teach the art of decluttering, I spoke about releasing in these four areas: paper, stuff, activities, and even people. Once we decided to go, we began to tackle the first three categories. In our process, I really didn’t tackle the people side of it for a couple reasons. On the business front, I planned to refer new clients to my contractors, so I didn’t really spread the word that I was leaving. On the personal side, I fully expected to stay connected with my friends. (I came to discover that this expectation was unrealistic – but that’s a later post.)

So we began choosing what to take with us, what to store, what to sell, and what to donate. But we had to do this sorting while keeping the house show-ready.

(It’s so funny – I’ve been staring blankly for a while now as I attempt to recall this time. There are flashes of memory, but they are from the milestones like when we finally sold the house, or were having the estate sale. I’ll have to ask Raymond but I truly am blanking on this letting go process. Was it that horrible? That painful? As an organizer, I saw over and over again the process people go through in releasing their stuff. It’s never just “stuff.” Each thing holds an energy; an energy of a good memory, or of a failure, or a reminder of the person who it was from, or guilt, or joy, or puzzlement [as in, “Why do I have this?”] or, taken as a whole, a rush of feeling overwhelmed. So I must be blanking for a reason because I know it couldn’t have been easy. Perhaps the excitement of the journey ahead made it bearable? I honestly don’t remember. Weird.)

So in decluttering our home, I do know I was ruthless. If I didn’t love it or need it, I let it go. Raymond and I had been married 12 years by then, and a lot of our stuff was ready for upgrading, so instead, we let it go. For example, I had been wanting new dishes for a while, so out went the old ones. Things that you need to run a household, like step ladders, were fair game. I didn’t want to a) pay for storage and possibly b) pay to move a $20 item to a new state or even country when I could easily buy a new one. So with that thinking, we got rid of more stuff than we should have, had we been able to see into the future and know that we would regret getting rid of basics like the food processor.

As I said, mistakes were made. I’d never before regretted being too ruthless in the decluttering process. (Oh, the former organizer in me so does not want to write this! I hate the thought of giving any support to the tendency people already have to keep too much!)

I got rid of some things that we ended up needing (and therefore had to pay to replace) as well as some things with sentimental value (I honestly don’t know what I was thinking). It created some hurt feelings when some people became aware of things I’d let go. I still feel bad about some of it. And in all the moves, I’ve lost stuff, too. That’s never been me. I’m just not one of those people who loses things, yet I have.

So if stuff has energy, looking back now I can see I did not want to feel all the feelings connected with my stuff, and that had me make rash decisions. I was going through literally everything I owned, choosing what very small bit of it to keep – no wonder I felt overwhelmed. Not to mention leaving the town I’d lived in since birth, the people I knew and loved, my home… whew. I actually have to hand it to myself for doing as well as I did.

And mistakes were made.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Uber-Decluttering for a New Life Direction

Now that I feel more settled than I have in about three years, I finally have the space to go back to the beginning of this adventure. I can now give some thought to the many requests about what it took to sell our home, cars, almost all our stuff, leave our friends, family and community in Phoenix, not to mention my business, and go live in Mexico for a while with no idea of where to go next, eventually ending somewhere we never thought we'd be, doing work we never imagined we'd do. (I can also now reply to those whose reaction was more along the lines of "What the hell are you thinking???")

I am going to attempt to recreate the adventure here, with the intention of distilling out the lessons. Or maybe I'll just write and let you take what you will. At least, I hope you'll enjoy the tale. And for those of you whose interest ran more along the lines of "How can I do that?" I hope this will inspire.

So, first, if you don't know the backstory of this journey and would like to, please see the blog entry from November 27, 2007 for a brief summary of events. I'll wait here.

Done? OK, onward. Or actually, backward.

In the summer of 2005, we got an invitation from some friends who had always wanted to live in San Miguel de Allende, which is a lovely colonial town in central Mexico. The invitation included an opportunity for Raymond to be trained in our friend's consulting business as well. So it was a career opportunity for Raymond, as well as an adventure for us both. I had been feeling kind of "done" with my professional organizing business, but I wasn't sure what direction to go in. We adore Mexico, so all of those factors were pushing us in the direction of Yes.

However. We had lived in Phoenix for 35 years. In a row. We had a large community of friends, family, business colleagues. We had a home we owned and loved. We had an ancient cat (17 years!) and a very old dog (14!). We had stuff - not a huge amount, as I did practice what I preached as a professional declutterer, but you know, enough to fill a home. I had never lived anywhere outside of Phoenix. (Whew - recreating this in writing is bringing back all those feelings: fear, excitement, grief, uncertainty. As Homer Simpson said, "Everything looks bad if you remember it.")

When we first got the invitation, I knew there was no way. NO way. Impossible. What would we do with our critters? How would we leave everything we knew? Everything we had worked for? All our peeps? Crazy.

Then the air conditioning went out, ever so conveniently on the Friday night of the three-day 4th of July weekend. No repair without massive holiday rates. We called the B&B two blocks away, the Yum Yum Tree, and booked a room for a night or three. And sitting by their pool on a hot summer night, I knew. Actually, I felt it. I knew it was an improbable, rash move. But I felt my soul stir, and knew on some level that we were leaving.

It wasn't until we were back home a couple days later, air back on, continuing to discuss, still processing, that we actually chose. We were outside on our front porch, watching the stars come out, having a much-needed mood enhancing beverage, and our heads caught up to our hearts. And we said Yes.

Oh, shit. We just said Yes.