Thoughts on Doing a 3rd (& final!) 1000 things project

(Just!?!) one more time…

2070 corkscrew honeymoon
(#2070: part of a corkscrew (other part missing); recycled 10/30/15)

As noted in my previous post on this topic, the total number of items in my 2nd 1000 things project carried me well past the 2,000 mark, which has started me on another 1000 things project. To be honest, this decision falls somewhere between a plan and a rounding error. My last haul to Goodwill put me at 2,037; with such a great start, how could I not keep going and count 963 more?

If the logic of that escapes you, well, let’s just say it’s not entirely logical to me either. Clearly there’s something deeper at work here which on some level is worth my knowing. But I do have my limits, so I’m calling this 1000 things project the 3rd and final one for a few reasons:

– I’m starting to get a little tired of counting at this point. The phrase “blessings beyond counting” has been recurring in my mind lately, and I’ve been playing with its possible dual meanings: ‘blessings that result from reaching numerical targets’ and ‘the blessing of finally being free from the need (desire? compulsion?) to count.’ The longer I keep counting, the louder the voice which says “are you crazy? OCD? obsessed with counting? weird?” [etc.]  Writing about it and sharing my thoughts with others has the same effect. I find myself wondering if I’m somehow revealing some deep secretive part of myself, at once aware of this in the abstract but blind to what’s actually being revealed. At any rate, I don’t want counting to become counting for counting’s sake. I’d also like to avoid the same OCD trap that seemed to afflict several of the authors whose books I read over the summer.

– At the same time, I’m curious about just how many more things I’ll need to get rid of to reach my stated goal of living in a dwelling where everything I own has identifiable purpose or value. Will 3,000 get me there or within sight of it? Only one way to find out…

– The notion of forcing the issue seemed appealing to me lately. I’ve derived this notion from watching the experiences of several people I know who have moved or are in the process of preparing to move, whether a downsize or a move to a faraway location.  The appeal of forcing the issue is to speed up the process; it makes getting rid of things a high priority, and thus it’s easier to get rid of a lot of them relatively quickly. When my older sister recently moved, for instance, she told me that she got rid of about one-third of their things over a several-month period. Then there’s the extreme, “natural disasters” version which I encountered recently at a conference, where I heard three different stories from colleagues about losing home possessions from a fire (in which they lost almost everything), flood (of a basement, but lots and lots of things had to be thrown out), and lightning (they had to throw out about 25 bags of clothing, and all of their remaining clothing had to be dry cleaned).

Despite this appeal, having to move usually means not having the time to be maximally, or even satisfyingly, thoughtful about each thing you own. I don’t want to abandon being thoughtful about the process, so I really don’t want to force the issue — but I don’t want another project to drag on for another nine or ten months either.

As a result, for this project I intend to focus on how to accelerate the process without forcing it — get rid of stuff more systematically and quickly, yet thoughtfully.  I intend to apply what I’ve learned from my first two 1000 things projects, including my readings and learning from the stories and experiences of others (which includes many of you who’ve told me such great stories and shared such wonderful tips!), toward developing and testing out one or more specific processes for doing this. I’ve already started identifying some of the steps and testing them out, trying to learn as I go. (More on this in later posts.)

This 3rd and final 1000 things project also appears to have several other important characteristics:

Awareness of (almost) everything I own. Now and then, I still rediscover a stash of forgotten things, most recently the stack of music, song, and lesson books stashed inside the piano bench. While this briefly makes me wonder if this will ever stop happening, I really have just about run out of such places. While I can’t tell you what’s in every single box or bin yet, and there may be a few more surprises left to rediscover, there is no area of my house that remains unexamined. For me, this awareness of all my things is a major milestone towards being able to identify their purpose and value. Which brings me to the next step:

What does “identifiable purpose or value” really mean anyway? — I’ve treated this goal as if I know what it means — that I’ll recognize it when I see it, that I can define it in concrete terms, and that I’ll be able to tell you and others when I’ve reached it. But I’m starting to realize that this goal may not be quite as clear as I’ve been treating it. So there may be some interesting surprises and insights in store for me here.

Tougher decisions about getting rid of stuff. I’ve gotten rid of most of the easy stuff by now, which means that the decisions about individual items are getting tougher. The corkscrew cover (#2070) pictured above was missing the actual corkscrew, but it was a somewhat tougher decision since the Cartwright Hotel was one of the first places Martha and I stayed on our honeymoon to Northern California 26 years ago. (Still, I don’t need the actual thing now that I have the picture and the reminder now.) Even relatively easy ones like the old high school student handbook below, with its explicit instructions for disposal (read the notes in red) still required a momentary stroll down memory lane.

2051
(#2051: CVHS student handbook, 1971-72; recycled 10/27/15)

This reality directly opposes my intent to get rid of things more quickly, but it does feed into my being more systematic and still thoughtful about it. The resulting conflicts are already interesting: I’m starting to hear newer inner voices, and the familiar ones are becoming louder and more stubborn; the embedded stories are more numerous and compelling; the attachments are stronger and often more deeply buried; and I’ll need to up my game in the curation and gratitude departments.

Curiously, the one area where I feel things getting easier is with “completing the cycle”: I don’t feel any urge to fill the newly emerging spaces in my home with things; instead, I feel stronger, cleaner, and leaner every day as another small pocket or space is emptied.

Overall, though, it will be interesting to see how the conflict between tougher decisions and more effective disposal plays out as I move forward.

More blog entries and writing in (near) real time. Up to now, I’ve been playing catch up most of the time with my chronicling of the 1000 things projects. There was no chronicling for the first project since I had no intention at the time of doing so; most of my chronicling during the 2nd project was about the first project, with the exception of a new stories and the book reviews, which were only a couple of months after I read them. I still have a lot of catching up to do with the second project, but I will be making more of an effort to chronicle in (near) real time what happens in this third (& final!) project.  Starting with my next post…

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Mr. Davis’s Oak Tree

About the power of imagination when it has taken hold…

(No picture of Mr. Davis’s oak tree — you’ll have to imagine it also…)

This story is about neighbors, memories, and the power of imagination when it has taken hold.

Mr. Davis was a neighbor who lived around the corner from us when we lived on Glaizewood Avenue. He was a widower, in his early 80s or so, a charming gentleman who was not above a little occasional flirting with my much-younger wife.  He got a free pass on that partly because he was clearly harmless and also because he clearly missed his wife so.  We suspected he was lonely and maybe a bit bored, so we were rather more neighborly with him than we might have been otherwise. Martha took the lead on this, of course; between her abundant gregariousness and her experience growing up on Beechwood Avenue where most of the neighbors had known each other for many decades, this came naturally to her (much more so than it did or does to me).  So we’d had plenty of chats with Mr. Davis in the yard and went over to his house a time or two. One time we even accompanied him to some event at a local VFW or someplace like that. I don’t remember what the event was — maybe a spaghetti dinner? or why we went — but apparently he had invited Martha and she’d agreed, and we had a perfectly fine time.

Of course, we also suspected he was bored and lonely because he was a bit of a busybody at times.  As was my usual oblivious custom, I tended to tune this out for the most part, except when it came to landscaping and lawn care. Mr. Davis was a stickler for both; he spent a lot of time in his yard, mowing and weeding and the other usual stuff. His back yard was farther up a hill at a higher elevation than ours, and our back yard was buttressed by a stone wall which was technically his property.  This wall was naturally a magnet for English ivy, and at least once Mr. Davis came down to talk with us about the importance of regular maintenance to uproot the ivy so that it wouldn’t damage and eventually bring down his wall.  I’m pretty sure he came down and did the work himself sometimes if we were not being diligent enough for his standards.  Martha and I, both working and almost always on the go, were similarly not quite so conscientious about keeping up with our lawn. One day, we came home to find out that our lawn had been cut for us. After the initial surprise and puzzlement, we figured out what had happened, but we never mentioned it to him, and neither did he.

Maybe it’s partly because I associate Mr. Davis so much with his back yard, but when I think of him, the first thing I usually think about is something I never saw and never will see. One time he told us a story about an oak tree that used to be in his back yard. I don’t remember any of the particulars about his story or about the tree itself. What I do remember is how he transported himself back in time as he told the story: he was clearly seeing his past, his life, as embodied in his memories of the tree as he reminisced about it. And after a while I was seeing the oak tree too, to the point where that is the only thing I remembered about the story. Occasionally after he told the story, I would look out the kitchen window or from our side deck out onto Mr. Davis’s back yard and imagine that tree, which soon became more real to me than the story itself.  Eventually, Mr. Davis’s oak tree became a symbol for me of how things we imagine can become real to us, even if they are long gone or if we never even experienced them as a physical reality.  I’ve found myself wondering how much that oak tree helped keep Mr. Davis going, how the power of imagination and memory extended his life in the face of loss.

Mr. Davis has been gone for some time now too, but I did see him one more time after we’d moved.  Many years later and some time after Martha had died, I was out on a bicycle ride by myself and in the general neighborhood. I decided I could handle a trip down that particular memory lane, so I rode by the old house. It had changed a lot in the intervening years — new landscaping, paint job and a new walkway, and more changes were going on: some new roofing and maybe another cosmetic change or two. I watched for a short while; then as I was turning to go, I saw a familiar-looking car parked on the street at the corner. In the car was Mr. Davis doing what struck me as a very Mr. Davis-like thing: he had driven his car a grand total of maybe 200 feet from his driveway so that he had a better view of the construction and could watch from the comfort of his car. He had the car parked on the other side of the street, facing the wrong way (it wasn’t possible or safe to park on the closer side), and he was sitting on the passenger’s side so that he could get the best view of the construction in process.

Strangely, I am unable to remember for sure what happened next. I don’t know whether I went over to say hello, or whether I avoided doing so because I didn’t want to tell him the painful news about Martha’s tragic death.  It’s funny what we remember and don’t remember sometimes.  For example, sometimes I think I remember having seen Mr. Davis park his car there before, while we lived there even, as a way of getting out of his house to entertain himself by watching what was going on in the neighborhood.  Which if true, would be a bit creepy in a way, because our house would be the main attraction in his line of sight. So maybe that memory is not so clear and even a total fiction. But I do remember that oak tree — a different kind of fiction which has clearly taken hold in my imagination…