Monthly Archives: June 2008

Powells Books: they sell and they BUY

Powells Books is an iconic Portland landmark that takes up a full city block but feels like a rabbit warren of intimate spaces and temptations.

Aside from selling almost any book on almost any subject, they also BUY books. What a great service to the community (and a profit center for them, most decidedly).

So I loaded up my car with FIVE boxes of books culled from the eight bookcases in my house and hauled them in to sell this afternoon. They took half of them and gave me $120 cash (could have had more if I’d taken store credit…). As far as I am concerned it’s a win-win situation.

Today’s load just scratched the surface of my own mini Powells at home.  Hundreds more books to go. If I’m lucky, I can get a little cash for 30% of them – the rest will have to be donated to the annual Friends of the Library sale.

Meanwhile, I need to develop a set of criteria for what stays and what goes. And I must remind myself that 90% of my books can be found in a library or used online if I ever MUST have one back.

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Filed under Downsizing, Paper and books

Packrat predilections

Packrat: a small rodent (genus Neotoma) that collects in its nest a great variety of small objects. An eccentric collector of miscellaneous objects.

Predilection: a preference, often formed as the result of personal disposition rather than from objective knowledge.

I’m working on an article for the local paper on clearing clutter, and as always when I have to gather my thoughts on some self-improvement topic I come face to face with my own short-comings.

Compared to many folks I’ve worked with my house is in order. But order is one thing; conscious is another. Much of what I have has accumulated willy-nilly over the years. Yes, I brought it into the house, but if I actually use 20% of it – or am even AWARE of it – I’d be impressed.

Take books, for example.

I buy a book. I read it (or not!) and put it on the shelf. Will I ever finish reading it or refer to it again?? Probably not. But it’s tidy and lines up nicely with all the other books on the shelf, so why move it? Occasionally I get a warm fuzzy feeling looking up at an old favorite, but that’s about the extent of my interaction with it for YEARS.

We all have our predilections for certain kinds of stuff. But one man’s collection is another man’s clutter. To someone who hates tschotchkes, a collection of ceramic roosters or angels is not just clutter, it’s a visual assault.

The tschtochke collector, however, might have been appalled by my former kitchen. Because I love to cook, my crammed cupboards and drawers weren’t clutter to me; they were my “working materials. ” When I moved a few years ago I was embarrassed to discover canned goods, spices, tools, and tableware that hadn’t been touched in a decade (or longer).

Clutter. I admit it now.

This morning I filled two boxes to the brim with books I will never read again. I’ll take them to Powell’s next week and what they can’t use I’ll give to the library.

What I want to end up with is a collection of books, each one of which I’ve consciously chosen to keep because I love it, need it and/or use it.

My clothes closet is next. ACK! Help me Jesus. (Just kidding)

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Filed under Practical feng shui

Plants and permanence

Permanent: fixed and changeless; lasting; not expected to change in status, condition or place

I spent much of last weekend in the garden, dealing with my plants (wanted and unwanted).  The rhodies, iris and peonies were at their peak, and all looked fabulous.

But now the rhody bushes are covered with dead florets and look like hell. Ditto the iris and peonies. I want everything to STOP! Why won’t the rhodies just STAY in perfect bloom? Ditto the iris and peonies.

If there is one thing plants teach it’s impermanence. A plant is at its peak only for a couple of weeks. Cut a flower to bring inside and maybe it lasts a few days.

A few years ago I took an Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) class at the Shambhala Meditation Center in Portland. The teacher had brought all sorts of plant materials and one vase for each of us.

I have had a fair amount of ikebana training so the lesson wasn’t particularly new for me, but some of the materials were novel (those flat sweet little peaches, for example).

We all fixed and fussed on our own arrangements for maybe an hour. Mine turned out to be the most fabulous arrangement I had ever created (at least I thought so). It totally tickled me, particularly how I’d used the peach and picked up its subtle colors in the other plant materials I used.

The teacher walked us from arrangement to arrangement tweaking here and there and discussing what worked in each one. We were inspired by each other’s creations.

Then she said, “OK, take them apart. We’re going to do another arrangement and you’ll need to re-use that vase.”

WHAT !?!?! My chef ‘ouevre? The pinnacle of my ikebana career? Destroyed after only one hour??

I know that plants are ephemeral, but to KILL an arrangement after only one hour was unthinkable! And I didn’t even bring a camera to capture it on film for my continuing pleasure.

Buddhist teachings stress that all is impermanent, that attachment is suffering.  I got it.

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Filed under Gardening/plants, Inspiration & encouragement

Procrastination

Procrastination: putting off intentionally something that should be done,
from the Latin, pro (forward) and crastinus (of tomorrow)

Ben Zimmer at Slate.com says

How fitting that the word is lengthy and Latinate, taking its time to reach a conclusion. Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson once wrote that procrastination is “really sloth in five syllables.” And yet the word denotes so much more than mere sloth or indolence: A procrastinator meticulously organizing a sock drawer or an iTunes library can’t exactly be accused of laziness. Likewise, procrastination is not simply the act of deferral or postponement. It implies an intentional avoidance of important tasks, putting off unpleasant responsibilities that one knows should be taken care of right away and setting them on the back burner for another day.

Noting Ben Franklin’s dictum “never put off until tomorrow what should be done today,” Zimmer reminds us of MarkTwain’s response: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

Which brings us to another great P-word perendinate, meaning “to put something off until the day after tomorrow.”

And – picture stories being worth 1000 textual declamations -join me in procrastinating a minute longer with cartoonist Lev Yilmaz. Laugh while you wince in self-recognition.

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to explore the P words that pave my path to Perfection. Procrastination is one of those words, and yet I’ve posted 60 entries on this blog without touching upon this pimple on the ass of Progress.

When I was preparing for a party last week, I reorganized a couple of kitchen cabinets, gathered a box of books for the second-hand store, and hung a bunch of pictures. Today, in preparation for an appointment with my divorce* attorney, I’m writing in my blog about procrastination.

John Perry, a Stanford philosophy professor whose public radio show Philosophy Talk is a favorite of mine, calls this “structured procrastination.”

I have discovered an amazing strategy that converts procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time. All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.

Ah. I feel better now.

*Divorce – I’ve been separated for 7 years from my almost ex, but we have yet to finalize it. This gives you some sense of my capacity for procrastination.

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Priorities – what’s really important?

Priority: a preferential rating- especially one that allocates rights to something in limited supply; something given or meriting attention before competing alternatives

Yesterday I watched a video of the dying professor who looks so good, Randy Pausch, give one of his “last lectures” on time management at University of Virginia. He is a man who has the unenviable perspective of knowing that his days are numbered. (I know, I know. All our days are numbered, but we think our death will be decades or eons from now.)

Time is the most precious gift we have, he says. We must remember this. Over and over and over. Once a moment has passed, it’s gone forever.

I didn’t listen to the whole lecture, so I don’t know if he touches upon the Eckhart Tolle (Buddhist, Taoist, etc etc) mantra of being present to THIS moment instead of clinging to the past or fretting about the future.

But he did talk about setting priorities. What’s important? Why am I doing this? Does this matter? Is it on purpose?

I don’t know about you, but I find it pathetically easy to get lost in trivial pursuits. Reading stories in the news that are unimportant and have no bearing on my life. Rambling thru internet searches that are fascinating and purposeless. Phone calls that chit-chat on an on about nothing in particular. Meetings for the sake of meeting.

The other issue is that I complicate my life with more than an underfunded single woman past middle age can handle on her own:

  • A 3,000 sq ft home that needs cleaning, organizing, beautifying and occasional fixing
  • A 1/3 acre yard/garden that needs weeding, trimming, feeding, watering, re-organizing and occasional fixing.
  • A mind that is hungry for new learning and new experiences – and therefore continuously thinks up new projects to sink into.
  • A soul that is hungry for music, dance, beauty, connection, color, flowers, love.
  • Friends and family I love dearly – some of whom can only be visited by airplane.

I can’t do everything to my high standards. I probably can’t even do half of everything to my standards. Where do I cut back? What is my highest priority? What is the highest and best use of my time?

Since I’ve been a feng shui consultant I’ve become especially sensitive to clutter in my own home and have gotten rid of a lot of it. But what is left is still always talking to me: use me, put me away, fix me, spend time with me.

If I want to focus on priorities I need to majorly downsize. Or find a partner with whom to share the bounty and the work… It’s time to make downsizing a Project – a goal with specific steps.

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Filed under Downsizing, Priorities, Spiritual lessons