Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: June, 2013

Process 2: Personal and Household Clutter

photo of garage filled with household clutter and no room for cars

A garage filled with 50¢ garage-sale fodder

Confession time: household clutter is where I’m most ambushed by the principle of process. Your parents and grandparents are right there with me, I’m guessing. We all got caught by the slow process of accumulating life’s necessities – and truckloads of stuff which couldn’t possibly be labeled as necessities. You have only to look in any middle-class family’s two- or three-car garage to see that we pile boxes of 50¢ garage-sale fodder to the rafters while we park our $50,000 vehicles in the driveway as hail fodder.

What would make us
do something so silly?

Well, to be fair, we don’t intend to be silly. Clutter just sneaks up on us. It’s a process, I’m telling you. Most young couples start out with their cars where they’re meant to be – in the garage. Then they buy a snowblower, which needs way more room than they estimated. Then children come along, and with them come boxes of outgrown clothes and toys, hockey sticks, portable basketball goals, skis, and so on.

Then there’s the box of their first set of everyday dishes, booted out by a sparkling new set on their tenth anniversary. Soon the dead food processor joins the party (because “handy” Uncle Eric might get it to work again). Then there are the boxes of books they never quite got ’round to building a bookcase to house. We don’t mean to fill the garage with garage-sale fodder. Clutter just sort of happens. Duh. It’s a process.

But what about
when people give me stuff?

Okay, let’s say Aunt Lisa offers you her salt-and-pepper-shaker collection. Do you really want it? No? Then say so! Ever so politely, of course, but ever so firmly and deftly. “No, no, I really couldn’t. But, you know, Aunt Lisa, I think Cousin _____ has always thought they were cool. I’ll bet she’d love them!” (Um, I think it’s worth mentioning at this point that you don’t finger someone whom you know good and well thinks little 1940s salt-and-pepper sets are tacky.)

Pay attention. Stop the clutter process – before it begins – of accumulating more personal goods than you have need or room for, especially those of no real interest to you.

But what about when I want to buy
something that I truly will use?

When you’re tempted to buy something, STOP. Do you really need to OWN it? Let’s say it’s that latest best-seller. Do you intend to read and re-read it? Pay attention to that last part. You’ll truly REread it? Really?? Okay then. By all means, buy it as a hard-copy book or, if available, as an e-book.

No? You admit you won’t reread it? Then take advantage of Andrew Carnegie’s largess. You know – the whole library scene. Why let a book you’ll read once take up valuable space in your home for years? Why dust it, move it, insure it, store it?

If your local library doesn’t have it, ask for it on inter-library loan. After reading it, decide if you’ll indeed refer to it and use it as a reference book – or not. Check the Net. Is your prey there in its entirety for your free usage? (Obviously, this applies to the video and audio scene, as well.) Pay attention: stop the process of material clutter in its tracks.

While we’re at it, let’s talk about the process of reference books being added to the Internet. Isn’t the Net absolutely wonderful – a constantly growing world-library of reference material at your fingertips? The process of bookmarking reference sites you use most often saves you from the process of accumulating books you don’t need to own and then having to do what I did not so very long ago. I decluttered my office by boxing up 68 books for a charity pickup. Some of them – 18 dictionaries of various sorts – I had read and re-read until the Net made them obsolete.

Well, some of them. I confess that, silly woman that I am, I wasn’t paying attention. While these reference resources were proliferating on the Net, I was still plunking down my money for hard-copy dictionaries. The other 50 were books I truly thought I would reread and reuse. The truth? I never opened them twice, in spite of how well-written they were and how many notes my Type-A self made in the margins.

Too late for you?
Nah.

Already buried by stuff? If, in addition to the garage and attic, the clutter has piled up in every corner, in your car’s trunk, and under the beds, start carting it back out. Start now, TODAY – a little at a time. Don’t kid yourself; it’s most unlikely you’ll ever have an entire weekend to devote to decluttering your home.

  • Two boxes of VHS tapes and books this week for the charity truck that lumbers through your neighborhood weekly.
  • A couple of bags of clothes to the consignment shop near your office next week.
  • The CD your friend thinks is cool and you’ve grown tired of? Have it in your hand – tomorrow – when you ask him if he wants it. (How can he refuse?)
  • The salt-and-pepper collection you couldn’t turn down from Aunt Lisa? Put it on eBay. (She’ll never know, trust me.)

Unconvinced?

There are plenty of books on undoing this cluttering-process trap we fall into. Get one. In fact, here’s a concise one – Getting Rid of It – by a husband-and-wife team who decluttered an entire suburban home down to two backpacks so that they could travel the world.

Pump yourself up with good advice from books like this one and then get rid of a little (or A LOT, if you can stand it) at a time. Accumulating things is a process; getting rid of stuff is a process – an incredibly worthwhile process.

Already started? Good for you! Why not share some of your best decluttering tips and help the rest of us in our decluttering process?

red box with white text of Wendell Berry's quote: "Don't own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire."

Ouch – a very, very good warning to heed.

Now would be a good time to move on to Process 3: Personal Habits.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Process 1: It’s a PROCESS!

photo of derelict buildings in need of demolition to make way for something better

The slow, much-needed process of demolition

This post – the first of five about this topic – is centered around one of those enigmatic lessons I’ve learned from watching our society as a whole and myself as part of it.

Here it is: contrary to what advertisers would have us believe, practically nothing happens instantly. Strokes and heart attacks might come to mind as the exceptions, but even they take years to build to the climactic event. The good things in life? They are most definitely NOT instantaneous.

And I can prove it. Quick – what derelict firetraps were at the corner of 23rd and Eastlake before they built the new mall? What rattrap buildings were in the 800 block of Elm Street before they were leveled to create that cool-design, mixed-use building everyone now loves?

Can’t remember, can you? That’s because the architecture – physical and otherwise – of our world is changing, and we’re not paying attention to that plodding-along process all around us. When we awake from our stupor, we can’t remember how things used to be. If that’s true now, when it takes a paltry 200 days to build a church building, can you imagine how this principle of process surprised our Medieval forebears, who sometimes took 200 years to build their cathedrals?

Have I told you anything new so far?

Nah. Adults know life is a process. But here’s the paradox: most of us live as if that obvious fact isn’t so. I’m telling you, we’re not paying attention. In spite of the fact that we erect stunning skyscrapers in nanoseconds (compared to Medieval times), in spite of all the gizmos and technology of our times, life STILL happens in little snapshots.

That’s a great metaphor, in case you missed it. Our life’s “snapshots” pile up and slowly become a towering mountain of stuff, in this case, glossy pieces of paper – all crying out to be put into albums, I’ve learned. The “digital photos” of your life (more stuff) collect one “trip” at a time, slowly clogging up your “hard drive” because you don’t sit yourself down and deal with the stuff after each “trip.” You know – the review, delete, and archive PROCESS?

This principle of process is one of those lessons I’ve learned the hard way and in spite of that, I keep on being surprised by it. What can I say? I’m in good company. Sometimes the hardest lessons to assimilate – for all of us – are the most obvious ones.

I could go on and on and on – and I will. (Watch for future process posts.) But for now, let’s just remind ourselves of a few facts:

  • Hollywood is clueless.
  • TV commercials are out there in la-la-land.
  • Advertising copywriters tell blatant lies.
  • Home & garden and fashion magazine articles are ridiculously out-of-touch with reality.

They assure you there’s an overnight remedy for debt accumulated over years. They tell you an obscenely priced bottle of cream will get rid of your crow’s-feet (caused by 20 years of smiling) in just two short weeks. They promise a “new kitchen” in one weekend. (One weekend? Are they kidding??) And on and on they go, promising us instant rewards, instantaneous pleasure, immediate satisfaction.

But we all know better, don’t we? There are no magic bullets. (More about this in Magic Bullet 1 and it has zip to do with blenders).

All of life is a process – a slow, steady process that very ordinary people – with no silver spoons – can handle without even breaking a sweat. We just have to pay attention to the process of living.

red box with white text of Anne Wilson Schaef's comment about the process of living

Sounds like EVERYTHING’s a process, eh?

(Right about now would be a good time to move on to Process 2: Personal and Household Clutter.)

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Selfishness

Most of us like to whine about how selfish people are. Not us, of course – just other people.

Right. Painful as it is to admit, we are ALL selfish. Most of us will spend our entire lives trying to overcome this very human, systemic character flaw.

Let me say right upfront that I don’t have a one-two-three approach for subduing selfishness. That would be highly presumptuous, since thousands of books have been written about this topic. I do, however, have

one modest suggestion.

You and I can get over (“slowly squelch” might be more accurate) our own selfish tendencies by getting over others’ selfishness.

Selfishness is readily apparent in common, everyday conversations. Pay attention at your next social gathering. Notice how friends and relatives just won’t let you have your say. Some are more polite than others, nodding as if interested, but often they’re only waiting for you to pause long enough that they can jump in with their story.

Notice that some continually interrupt you to tell their story. It’s obvious they consider their interests, their work, their family, their hobbies, their health, their … (you get the picture) far more interesting and important than yours.

So what do we do? Quietly simmer and vow never to be caught in the same room with that selfish bore again? Rehearse all the nasty comebacks we’d like to say in our next “conversation”? Look for a flaw in their reasoning – and loudly point it out?

Oh, yes. Those are all choices that will make us feel better. Not.

Here’s a better alternative

that I watched my parents choose over and over. They paid attention to human nature and acknowledged that most of us are self-absorbed. They got over it, and let others talk about themselves. (Yes, this is suspiciously like Gold Nugget 2.)

They found it to be way less stressful. Letting someone else take the conversation reins allows you to relax and enjoy the ride. The mental gymnastics of looking for a spot where you can jump in to tell your story before someone else does is exhausting work. Trying to persuade someone to your point of view, against his will, is tedious, agonizing – and usually unsuccessful – WORK.

Sit back and listen. Pay attention while others talk. (But, if necessary, do guide their talk to something beyond chewing-gum-for-the-mind blather.)  When the “conversation” is over, you will know:

  • why they act the way they do. Understanding usually begets compassion; you’ll find yourself being more compassionate toward them and others you meet who are in the same situation.
  • new information. Who knows when your new-found knowledge might be useful to yourself or others?
  • more about human nature as a whole. After years of listening to others – with little wasted energy spent attempting to tell your story – you’ll be wiser about people in general, able to deal more skillfully with them.
  • you didn’t bore others by telling them stuff they didn’t want to hear.
  • you’ve taken one small step toward squelching your own self-absorption.

That last one
is the whole point of this blog.

If I can slowly squelch a little of my innate selfishness simply by giving up talk-time and you do too, just think how we can change our modest circles of influence.

And guess what? Giving up talk-time prepares us for giving up other things. When that giving-up process begins, we’re doing our part to subdue that yucky selfishness gene we all seem to have inherited.

red box with white text of Philippians 2:3

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

I don’t have time to . . . .

desk calendar with blank day page

An extraordinarily large segment of our population operates under the misconception that this is the card/excuse that trumps all other cards/excuses for not doing things.

While there are people who can legitimately play this card, I’ll bet they’re not ten percent of our population. When they play it, they do what the wannabes would like to do: they trump every other card and take the hand. Our President springs to mind. State governors, corporate CEOs, metro city mayors – the movers and shakers of our world – fit into that ten percent.

I don’t travel in those stratospheric circles. But I have been paying attention to the not-so-famous movers and shakers down in my humble part of the world, and I’ve noticed even they seldom play this card. While trying to determine why I never hear “I don’t have time” come from their mouths, I’ve noticed they:

If they seldom play the don’t-have-time card, neither should I and neither should you. Why? Because it tips your hand. While it may sound important, saying “I don’t have time” tips off the more astute and thoughtful around the table. Those people – the ones who can offer jobs, contacts, and opportunities – will know we hold the can’t-delegate card, the no-priorities card, and the muddled-responsibilities card.

The hiring-and-firing people know that when these three cards are combined with the I-don’t-have-time-card, the person holding them does not have a winning hand. That person will be unable to function well at high levels of responsibility.

Would you like to join me in a self-promise to stop making the lame excuse, “I don’t have time”? Then let’s look again at my down-home movers-and-shakers list.

Delegating

Find a good book aimed at managers and leaders. The ideas in it don’t resonate? Find another. Too many words? Then think about the bosses/managers you’ve admired firsthand. Pay attention to delegators you know until you find a style and method of delegating that sounds and feels like you. Then practice it diligently.

Setting Priorities

If you’re not in the habit of setting priorities for yourself, check out one of the bazillion trillion books on goal setting. Too much work? Simply sit yourself down and make a list of your priorities. Tweak it until you really buy into what you say you intend to do with your life. Once you’ve made a list of priorities that are of vital importance to you, it’ll be easier to give them the respect – and time – they’re due.

Knowing Your Responsibilities

If you’ve never given much thought to ALL your responsibilities, go somewhere quiet. Ditch ALL the electronic gear. THINK. Think long and hard about those responsibilities. Now get your favorite electronic tool and key in the obvious segments of your life and list your responsibilities in each segment.

Even if you’re single, just out of school (or still in school), and living on your own, you have a lot of responsibilities you didn’t have just a few years ago. If you’re married, a parent, and/or working in the beginning levels of your profession, you have a TON of responsibilities. Wouldn’t it be nice to see them in black and white and have a very clear mental list of what you’ve signed on for?

Wow. It’s a ton of stuff, isn’t it? And you have only 24 hours a day to accomplish it – just like every other person on the planet. So saying you don’t have time isn’t very accurate, is it? But then, it isn’t about time.

It’s NEVER been about time; it’s about priorities and responsibilities. It’s about consciously and carefully choosing to use our 24 hours in such a way that we accomplish the tasks we’ve set before ourselves or the tasks we’ve thoughtfully and cautiously signed on to help others accomplish.

Deflecting Other People’s Priorities
For Our Time

Now we’re down to the last of my lesser-known movers-and-shakers’ traits – trying to avoid spending time on other people’s priorities by whining “I don’t have time.” If we’re to follow their suit, we need to make a new trump card – a simple, short, and forever recyclable phrase that’s unlikely to offend but is still honest and patently clear.

I use, “Sorry, that’s not on my list” and try to smile disarmingly as I say it. I don’t want to beat them over the head with my “no.” I just want to make it crystal clear that no amount of wheedling will change my mind. My whole persona says Buddy, you’re wasting your time.

You’re clever. Think of a new trump card that’ll stop those people who’ve decided what your priorities should be. Pull that puppy out and play it whenever the situation calls for it. But whatever you do, do not play the I-don’t-have-time card: it trumps nothing.

red box with with white text of H. Jackson Brown's quote about time

As you can see, I’m not the only one who lives by this credo. H. Jackson Brown is the author of Life’s Little Instruction Book. Great little book.

And I’ll bet you, dear reader, are devising some great little tricks for avoiding nonsensical, I-don’t-have-time whining. Why not share them with the rest of us?

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

“EVERYONE does it [this way].”

Whenever you hear this, do you think, Oh, really? I don’t wonder. Everyone, after all, is an awfully laaaaarrrge word.

I recently talked with young friends who just got married. They’d decided on a small, immediate-family-only wedding. And, oh my, the grief they had to take from other people telling them, “you have to do it this way”; “everyone does it this way.” Translation: 47 bridesmaids, full-dinner reception, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Are you under this sort of conformity-pressure right now? Isn’t it astonishing how many people in your life try to tell you to get in line, conform, do things the way everyone else does? And isn’t it clever how they try to hide it behind “for your own good” advice?

Here’s your
PayAttention Tip-for-the-Day.

When someone starts spouting Everyone Tripe, back up – waaay back – because that person has just proved they can’t be trusted AND that they’re manipulative.

There is precious little on the face of this planet that EVERYONE does – except breathe, eat, sleep, and defecate. But when friends tell you “everyone does it,” they’re usually not referring to these four bodily functions. They’re trying to get you to do something because THEY think that’s what you should do.

When they try pulling this trick on you, ask yourself these questions.

  • Do they know the details of my financial situation?
  • Do they know what pushes my stress level out of my comfort zone?
  • Do they know the short-term and long-term goals I’ve set for my life?
  • Do they truly know my moral compass and world-view?
  • Do they know about my health/medical/emotional state?

I could go on, but you get the picture. People who try to get you to do something using the suspect admonition “everyone does it” are usually clueless about your life’s details. Or they could be the kind of people who go through life telling other people what to do. Regardless into which category they fall, ignore them. If that feels awkward (and maybe even rude), then broaden your perspective on the topic, whatever it is. Find out for yourself if everyone does it.

Using this wedding scenario example, you could ask slightly older couples if they had it to do over, would they still opt for the fairytale-princess wedding for 300 guests (and spend the next five years paying for it)? Or you could ask even older generations about their weddings. If you can collar a couple who wed in the ’40s or early ’50s, you’ll learn that the wedding industry was in its infancy and just beginning its quest to manipulate unsuspecting brides and grooms.

Because it was still in its formative stages, it hadn’t yet sucked in the general population. Large, extravagant weddings were the exception rather than the norm. Couples concentrated on preparing themselves to have successful marriages and households rather than successful, over-the-top weddings and receptions. They were the Builder Generation and in large numbers, they built stable marriages without one single flower girl and no fairytale-princess dresses. Really. Everyone did weddings their way – and not so very long ago.

Back to my young friends’ case: they discussed their wedding plans and decided everyone would just have to soldier on without them while they had a wedding appropriate for their situation.

And that gives me such hope! When young people buck this kind of insidious, pervasive manipulation, they show they’re thinking and paying attention. And you know how thinking, pay-attention people warm my heart.

So buck up, Little Camper. And while you’re at it, buck whatever it is that someone else declares is the way EVERYONE does it. Rubbish: we’ve already ascertained there are only four activities that fit that bill.

Warm my heart some more. Share how you’ve bucked the everyone-does-it ploy.

red box with with George S. Patton's quote: "If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."

A great WWII general’s take on “everyone”

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

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