Monthly Archives: December 2008

Impermanence: snow melts and tempus fugit

Impermanence:  n. an essential element of Buddhism – that everything is changing, inconstant, in flux. Because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile, and leads to suffering.

The Portland area was blanketed in nearly a foot of snow for most of the week up until Christmas. My California grandkids were thrilled to share a white Christmas with their two super-fun uncles, who are young at heart at 25 and 37.

[These family visits are one of my excuses for keeping a house with 4 bedrooms. And you might ask: what about the other FIFTY weeks?]

Being snowbound gave us the chance to invent our fun together. So the boys and the uncles made a snowman:

snowman-done

We all wanted the fun times, and the snowman, to last forever. But impermanence happens. The temperature began rising. The snowman began shrinking. This is how he looked this morning – about 15″ tall:

melted

And now the family is gone and house is totally quiet again.  The holiday disappeared as quickly as the snow, and I feel a lot like our snowman. Quite deflated and a little soggy.

Even during the holiday I was on a downsizing kick though. My two older kids went thru 7 boxes of their childhood memorabilia from the garage.   “It either goes home with you or it goes in the recycle bin,” I told them.  “Now is the time…”

Six of the seven boxes were Ethan’s.  To keep him company I brought out a couple of boxes of my own papers for sorting.

I have to hand it to him; he carefully plowed through a couple of boxes every day, examining each item (artwork, book reports, photos and letters), recycling about half of it, but savoring and repacking the rest to ship to California where he lives.

My own journals and letters are voluminous – going back to college!  The triviality of most of my concerns appalls me, but it’s all there – bringing the past temporarily back to life.

The process was a powerful reminder of how many lives we each have lived through, in what seems like the blink of an eye. Friends, passions, projects… developing, ripening, disappearing. Many forgotten until a picture or letter brings it back.

We keep these things because our memories are as ephemeral as our poor melted snowman.

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Filed under Downsizing, Family issues, Paper and books, Photos & memorabilia

Powell’s in Portland: friend of downsizers

Books are among the things I need to winnow out in this down-sizing project. So a couple of days ago I made a pilgrimage to Powells with three boxes of books I hoped they’d want.

The door to the book-buying room is on a very busy corner and it’s not always possible to park close by, so my son met me at the door and hauled the boxes in while I went to park.

He also helped me unload the boxes onto the counter for the buyer to view. This was a mistake, because I had included some children’s books in the collection. Every few books, he’d grab one with a little cry of delight and place it back in the box:

“Oh, The Woodland Folk! I loved that book. You can’t get rid of that!”

“Hey, Wembley’s Egg! Give me that!”

“Wait a minute! Why Cats Paint!”

This is my very manly 25-year-old son talking, not a nine-year-old. Sigh.

Nevertheless Powell’s bought about half of what I brought and gave me a decent amount of money for them. Immediately we got lost in the aisles, and the money would have gotten spent in a trice if we hadn’t had to be someplace else.

As book-lovers (as well as book-sellers) we both agreed that a it would be heavenly just to spend the entire day at Powells, getting lost in the stacks.

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Filed under Downsizing, Selling stuff

Penny-pinching begins at home.

Penny-pinching: v. to spend little, to be frugal (holding pennies so tight they squeek).

“When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other”. – Chinese Proverb

This is why my garden is so precious to me. Every day a I find new “lily.”

———

Penny-pinching to me is less about spending reductions and more about making do with what I already have. Like reading books that have been mouldering on the shelves for years instead of buying fresh ones. Like resuscitating some ancient scarves to garnish some very ordinary sweaters and tops.   Like figuring out how to alter the shoulders on a couple of ’80s jackets to update their fusty look.

And last night I made a great soup tonight based on some canned veggies whose pull dates passed during the Clinton administration.

If I were sealed into my home I could probably keep myself fed, dressed and amused for a long long time, just with the stuff I’ve got on shelves and in cupboards, boxes and closets.

Surely one way to down-size is by simple attrition – just the way they do in the corporate world. After you’ve bought your lily, here are some other penny-pinching ideas to try:

pennypinchingtips

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Filed under 101 Reasons to Downsize

Parigraha: holding on to stuff

Parigraha: n. ancient Sanskrit word meaning grasping, hoarding, holding onto one’s stuff.

Sooner or later – and the way the economy and my savings are going right now it’s looking like a lot sooner – I’m going to have to sell my house and move into much smaller quarters.

I am therefore faced with two inarguable reasons to let go of a lot of my stuff:

1) A home that is sparsely furnished shows better when it goes on the market because prospective buyers have enough open space that they can imagine themselves and their stuff in it.

2) My future home, which will be about half the size of this one, can comfortably fit only half as much stuff – if that much, maybe less.

In yoga, we study the yamas and niyamas, which are about how we want to be in the world as compassionate enlightened yogis. Patanjali wrote them down about 150 BCE (!) as part of the Yoga Sutras.  They’re kind of like rules of conduct – not rigid or dogmatic – but more like ideal states of being to continuously work towards.

The fifth yama is aparigraha (the opposite of parigraha) or non-grasping, non-hoarding.  Ideally we yogis are not attached to our stuff. It flows in and out of our lives – we use it and let it go, use it and let it go. Ideally.

But our stuff means so much to us! It is SPECIAL stuff. Even if it stands in the way of emotional and physical freedom, we clutch it close.

My current spiritual practice involves gathering the equivalent of a box of stuff every day – either for disposal (recycling LOTS of paper right now), re-use (Goodwill, here I come), or sale. I’m starting with easy stuff – a couple of days ago it was ancient computer manuals, old tax papers and receipts. I’ve got boxes and boxes and file drawers and file drawers more paper to go.

Not wanting to overwhelm my recycle pickup service I switched yesterday to culling socks, stockings and tights.

Today is table linens. I have an amazing number of napkins that I never use because they clash with my dinner dishes, or are stained, or are insufficient (why is it I buy a set of SIX napkins, when I rarely feed less than EIGHT for a company dinner??).

I know I’ll have to make much deeper cuts in every department, but I’ll use the easy stuff like mental weight-lifting, to strengthen my resolve.

The hardest will be stuff that I equate with memories – of a special person, place or time. Down the road.

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Filed under Inspiration & encouragement