July 29, 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

This post is a follow-up to last Wednesday’s entry Tithing Time, in which I considered how an abundant mindset in giving away time might result in attracting more time.  Cultivating a feeling that time is an abundant resource can lead to reflection and positive behavioral changes, I concluded, thus resulting in better time management.  Having recently donated two days of my vacation time, I set myself a challenge to monitor my time more closely for the rest of the year, to see if any unexpected additional time does in fact turn up.

 

Shiny brass analog clock.

 

At first, there didn’t seem to be anything promising on the horizon when it came to attracting time. Thursday was a long day with a lot to do; I had two personal errands on my calendar for Monday morning and expected to take a half-day of vacation; and on Tuesday (today) I had a hair appointment scheduled, making my workday run longer afterward. Also, when my daughter gets her new apartment, my husband and I plan to help her move. So it just looked like I would be busy, busy, busy, with no relief in sight!

Friday went smoothly and left me feeling pretty relaxed, though; so I decided to do some work on Sunday afternoon to make up for Monday morning, instead of taking a half-day off. That was something I usually hadn’t done in the past because I felt that I needed my weekends to rest, and didn’t want to cut into that time. But as it turned out, the work seemed like it went quickly; and I didn’t end up feeling deprived because of having less time to read, play video games, or whatever I might have been doing instead.

By the time I got started on Monday morning’s errands, I realized that I’d already gotten back 4 hours of the 16 that I gave away, just by not taking the half-day of vacation time! Although working on Sunday is not something I would do as a general rule, I didn’t feel that it had made this particular weekend stressful or hectic. And I am sure I’ll appreciate that vacation time whenever I decide to take it. So, at the end of the first week, I would describe the time-attraction challenge as going well.

The hall closet in my front entryway is so full of my daughter’s clutter that the other family members haven’t kept anything in it for many years; we’ve all been using the closet next to the garage door instead.  Given the fact that she spent the past four years away at college, at the very latest I should have dealt with it when she first left home.  Last summer, when she accumulated so much stuff that the door wouldn’t close, I told her to clean it up, and she dutifully filled three large bags with stuff to give to the thrift store.  But this is a girl who can’t pass by a pair of shoes on sale without gleefully adding them to her collection, so the closet soon filled up again.  I have no idea how she ever manages to find a pair of matching shoes in there, when she just throws them all in a colossal heap.

 

Cluttered closet full of shoes, coats, and other stuff.

 

No more! This year I’ve resolved to free my house of clutter, and it’s past time for all the stuff in that closet to depart on a one-way journey—either to the thrift store or to my daughter’s new apartment, as she prefers. She put in her rental application today, and plans to move into the apartment next weekend. When she does, I want the closet completely empty. Although it can be kind of sad when a child grows up and leaves home, I don’t think I’ll be mourning the loss of that clutter.

About Clutter Comedy: Every Sunday (which I envision as a day of rest after a productive week of de-cluttering) I post a Clutter Comedy article describing my most ridiculous clutter discovery of the week. Other bloggers who wish to join in are welcome—just post a link in the comments! There’s no need to publish any “before” photos of your clutter, if they are too embarrassing. The idea is simply to get motivated to clean it up, while having a bit of fun too!

As I mentioned in the comments to my Nurturing Thursday post last week, there is a bizarrely mismatched hedge along my property line, which a neighbor planted many years ago.  I suspect she did it with no forethought at all, just buying a totally random assortment of whatever trees and shrubs happened to be on sale.  Nearest the street, the hedge consists of a redbud tree, some honeysuckle bushes, an apple tree, and other stuff that has no apparent rhyme or reason to it.  Since it was planted, a new family has moved in, without redoing the hedge.  I can’t really blame them for putting that chore at the bottom of their priority list—honestly, in their position I wouldn’t be all that enthusiastic about it, either.

 

Neighbor's hedge of various random plants.

 

Farther down, there is a gap where the resident deer herd (who can’t be hunted within the city limits, and show almost no fear of humans) got in the habit of walking through. They trampled the shrubs, leaving weeds in their path. This year it’s mostly Queen Anne’s lace; I made sure to cut off the thistles before they flowered, given the fact that the wind is likely to blow any seeds toward my yard. But thankfully, because I have a side-entry garage, none of my windows face the side yard next to my driveway, so I don’t have to look at this from my house.

 

Gap in hedge, full of weeds.

 

By now you’re probably wondering what a neighbor’s hedge has to do with self-nurturing. I haven’t yet gotten to the best part! Just by the luck of the draw, one of the plants at the back of the hedge is an orange trumpet vine that has grown tall and robust along my backyard fence. Last year it looked absolutely gorgeous, with flowers and hummingbirds everywhere. Although it hasn’t blossomed much this year, probably because of the harsh winter, it still gives that corner of my yard a lovely storybook appearance.

 

Trumpet vine on my backyard fence.

 

This is what I see when I look out my kitchen window. Delightful! And it wouldn’t have been there if my neighbor hadn’t planted all that mismatched stuff; the idea of planting a trumpet vine had never occurred to me! So, every time I look out my kitchen window, the view reminds me that there’s always something to appreciate about the random things in life.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

July 23, 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

In the usual sense of the word, “tithing” means contributing to the support of a church. But the word also can refer more generally to putting a portion of one’s money, goods, or time toward charitable purposes. Sarah Ban Breathnach gives it the second, broader meaning when discussing the concept in her book Simple Abundance, in which she says that willingness to give is essential to creating an abundant life. Moreover, she observes that we naturally attract the things we choose to give.

“It’s been my discovery that when I tithe time, I receive more time,” she says. “When I tithe goods, I receive gifts. If I want more money in my life, I tithe money… Affirming our abundance now, by becoming generous givers, dramatically demonstrates our prosperity to the doubter within.”

Last week I learned that one of my coworkers had used up this year’s allotment of vacation days while caring for a relative who is dying of cancer. Another employee wrote an email asking people to help by donating part of their vacation time. I contributed two days, which led me to reflect on how we get more time when we’re willing to give it.

Obviously, giving away some of my vacation days won’t magically cause my employer to add more to replace them. So what’s actually going on—in practical, real world terms—when giving attracts abundance? I would describe it as a shift in attitude, which subconsciously prompts positive action. Our perceptions of time and prosperity are mostly based on our subjective experiences, rather than on measurable facts. Often we don’t appreciate—or even notice—when we gain more.

We have more vacation days after working for the company long enough to gain some seniority, but we still feel rushed and harried because our lives have too many distractions. We have more money because of pay raises, but our expenses are higher. We have more stuff, but we’re not enjoying it because the house is full of clutter.

So abundance is mainly about breaking out of those unappreciative thought patterns that leave us feeling deprived—it’s not really about acquiring any particular amount of money, time, or stuff. We’re all familiar with stories about people who won the lottery or got a fabulous job, but ended up being just as unhappy afterward as they’d ever been. To a large extent, prosperity is a mindset rather than a quantity.

Giving—whether we choose to give money, goods, or time—is a powerful statement that we have more than we need. Hoarding, in contrast, reinforces feelings of lack and scarcity. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. We can chant happy mantras all we want, but that doesn’t have much effect until we get our behavior in alignment with our affirmations.

When we feel confident that we have more than we need, the subconscious mind’s pattern-matching functions kick in to adjust our interpretations of everyday events accordingly, thus further changing our actions in a self-reinforcing positive cycle. Because giving money causes us to feel more prosperous, we’re more likely to be proactive about spending small amounts that result in larger savings—for example, buying a new setback thermostat that reduces energy costs. Giving away things we don’t need allows us to more comfortably use what we have, as well as enjoying our gifts and purchases much more when there’s no clutter in the way. And giving time leads to feeling that we have enough of it so we shouldn’t be in a rush, which in turn prompts reflection and positive action to better manage our time.

Although I won’t literally get back the two vacation days I gave away, I should certainly be able to find positive ways to avoid more than 16 hours of time-wasting by the end of the year. I’ll consider this a personal challenge!

When I was a kid, I was a big fan of corn on the cob.  Eating it was a messy and demanding ritual—first, melt a pat of butter on top of the hot corn, carefully turning it to spread the butter evenly, without missing a spot.  Then sprinkle on some salt, but not too much anywhere, too much would be yucky!  Then, eat the corn, nibbling neatly along the rows of tasty kernels while pretending to be a bunny in the garden…

Not surprisingly, I got out of the habit of eating corn on the cob when I grew up.  Plenty of other foods were quicker and simpler.  The busy demands of adult life in the modern world didn’t mesh well with elaborate rituals and play-pretend games at the dinner table, however much fun they might have been long ago.  And what was the point of just chomping one’s way through the corn without appreciating all the little details?

I bought some corn skewers a few years ago, when my daughter said she’d like to cook corn on the cob. She cooked it once, and I have no idea what became of the pair of skewers she used; they probably got thrown away with the cob. The remaining skewers, still neatly packaged, sat on a kitchen shelf until I de-cluttered it last week.

 

corn holders

 

Unlike most of the clutter I’ve found, I did not throw away the corn holders. They’re still just as useful as they ever were, so I decided that because my daughter was the one who wanted them, I’m going to put them in a box of stuff for her to take when she moves out. She graduated from college in May and came home for a couple of months while studying for her licensing exam as a nurse. Soon she’ll be off again, to a new apartment and a career. Life moves on, more quickly than we realize; and clutter should, too.

About Clutter Comedy: Every Sunday (which I envision as a day of rest after a productive week of de-cluttering) I post a Clutter Comedy article describing my most ridiculous clutter discovery of the week. Other bloggers who wish to join in are welcome—just post a link in the comments! There’s no need to publish any “before” photos of your clutter, if they are too embarrassing. The idea is simply to get motivated to clean it up, while having a bit of fun too!

While doing yard work this past weekend, I noticed that two boxwood bushes planted under my garage windows had grown tall enough to cover part of the bottom pane. I hadn’t paid them much attention before, mainly because the sunlight they blocked wasn’t very noticeable. Whenever I was in the garage during the daytime, plenty of sunlight came in through the open door; and at night I turned on the overhead lights.

Because my garage is side-entry, its windows—and the bushes under them—are on the front side of the house. In fact, they’re closer to the street than any of the house’s other windows. I realized that letting the bushes along the garage wall get overgrown like that gave the house an untidy appearance to anyone passing by. So I trimmed them back, and now they look much neater, with the tops of the bushes just below the windows:

 

Two windows in a brick wall with neatly trimmed bushes under them.

 

But I should have cut them back last year when they got above the height of the windows, even though the neighbors probably wouldn’t have thought they looked overgrown then. Even though I don’t often look out the garage windows (which have white blinds) or think about how much light should come through them, when windows get partially blocked they’re still noticed subconsciously. And because whatever surrounds us in daily life shapes our view of the world, a simple thing like bushes growing too high in front of a window can cause us to perceive the world as slowly getting darker, gloomier, and full of obstacles.

From now on, I’ll keep in mind that to allow more light into our lives, generally, we first have to pay attention to whatever little things might be blocking it.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

To read all posts in this series from the beginning, click here.

 

One of the most difficult aspects of banishing negative thinking is that it often pops up without warning. Even if we feel entirely ready to live without negativity, we can’t get away from the fact that the human brain is a busy storytelling machine. As we go through our days, we’re full of mental chatter, constructing one narrative after another to make sense of whatever we’re experiencing at the moment. Often we do this without much conscious thought, finding similarities between a present-day event and something in our past experiences, and then plugging in whatever narratives we’ve used in the past—without first reflecting on whether or not they’re appropriate.

Most of the time, our subconscious internal narratives are very useful. They allow us to navigate the complicated structure of modern society by way of familiar routines. If we stopped to analyze in detail all the thousands of possible decision points we encounter every day, we’d never get anything done. We need basic scripts that get triggered by simple observations, such as “That laundry basket is overflowing—time to put a load in the washer.”

But sometimes the mental chatter gets out of control, piling all sorts of random associations on top of each other. Carrying the basket to the laundry room, we might think about a friend’s aunt who fell down the stairs and broke a hip while doing her laundry. That brings to mind a recent online article about health insurance, which had a lively debate in the comments. Before we know it, we’re recalling a heated political argument that took place on a forum a decade ago. We’re angrily ruminating about all the stuff we’d have liked to say to the jerks on the other side of that argument—even though in the here and now, the only thing we’re doing is putting the laundry in the washer!

The unavoidable randomness of our thoughts is why we can’t rely on willpower alone to overcome addictions. Using willpower to choose one action over another is fine when we’re actually making conscious choices, but most of the time we’re not. Instead, we’re just reacting to our environment according to whatever scripted routines and semi-relevant memories happen to be floating around in our brains at the moment. Consequently, we’re likely to find ourselves engaging in addictive behaviors purely out of habit, without the benefit of any forethought.

In a traditional 12-step program, reliance on help from one’s Higher Power fills the willpower gap. Looking outside the self—whether we frame it in terms of looking to God, our family and friends, Nature, the Universe, or simply as practicing mindfulness—is essential to refocus our attention on what is happening in the moment. And as with the other steps of the program, Step Seven should be approached in a spirit of humility—that is, acknowledgment that there is much we don’t know, openness to further discovery, and gratitude for what we learn.

As we cultivate the habit of being present in the moment and become more aware of our surroundings, we’re less likely to find ourselves caught up without warning in old addictive patterns such as persistent negative thought loops.

I always enjoy a gift of fresh flowers. They brighten up the house and give it a cheerful feeling. And even after the flowers wilt, I still have the pretty vase from the florist’s shop, which can be washed and refilled with flowers from my own garden. That keeps me in mind of good memories from the gifts, and a vase doesn’t take up much space in the cabinet.

As the years went by, the vases slowly accumulated. At first I liked having a nice selection when I brought in flowers from the garden. Also, they were useful for crafts and for bringing flowers to others. But there were some vases that hadn’t been used in ages and were just taking up space on the shelf. Those, sad to say, were just clutter.

 

Old vases of different shapes, sizes, and colors

 

I have a few favorites that I use regularly, and those can stay. The others are off to the thrift store, where they can perhaps bring in a few nickels for charity. I send them on their way with my good wishes that they’ll brighten the lives of the buyers.

About Clutter Comedy: Every Sunday (which I envision as a day of rest after a productive week of de-cluttering) I post a Clutter Comedy article describing my most ridiculous clutter discovery of the week. Other bloggers who wish to join in are welcome—just post a link in the comments! There’s no need to publish any “before” photos of your clutter, if they are too embarrassing. The idea is simply to get motivated to clean it up, while having a bit of fun too!

Before we had supermarkets with computerized inventories and PLU produce labels, cherries were put in a bin at the grocery store, instead of being pre-bagged as they are today. Shoppers had to pick through the cherries in the bin to find the good ones. They were then weighed on a balance scale, and the cashier would determine the price by looking at a paper list posted next to the mechanical cash register.

Because I loved cherries and other fruit when I was a child, my mom gave me the task of picking out the best cherries (or other fruit in season) when she did the grocery shopping. That way, not only did she finish the shopping more quickly, but she also kept me occupied so that I wouldn’t pester her to buy other things that were not on the list. Very wise!

Earlier this week, I bought my first bag of cherries this summer and thought about how much easier and quicker it is now:

 

Plastic bag filled with cherries and labeled with the PLU number.

 

Although today’s supermarkets are more efficient than the grocery stores of the past and have a much larger selection, which often includes fruit out of season shipped from other parts of the world, I still enjoy the seasonal changes. Fruit just doesn’t taste the same when it is picked before it ripens and sits on a boat for weeks. So my “cherry picking” for the modern world consists of carefully picking foods that give me the most enjoyment, such as cherries fresh from the orchard in July.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

Once upon a time (because that’s how a good old-fashioned fairy tale ought to begin) there was a storyteller, her thoughts filled with dreams, who sought to weave mythical spells with her writing. Angels and bright magical crystals gleamed in sunlit corners of imaginary tiled courtyards with lovely red rose-bedecked lattices, almost (but not quite) close enough to touch.

Though our heroine ventured bravely forth in her quest to bring these delightful wonders to life on the page, she always encountered obstacles in her path (as one might expect, of course, in a fairy-tale quest). The balmy summer breezes proved just too inviting after a long, bitterly cold winter. The garden beckoned, urging her to spend more time with its fragrant heaps of flowers and its overgrown bushes in need of trimming (to be honest, she’d neglected them longer than she cared to admit). Picnics and other outdoor activities filled her calendar. The Fourth of July fireworks came and went. Our guilty heroine realized she hadn’t written any stories in months.

“This just won’t do,” she told herself reproachfully. “My characters are depending on me to bring them to life!”

So she took a pen and paper (as she was an old-fashioned storyteller) and sat down to compose a story on a gloriously sunny Wednesday afternoon. She had plenty of ideas for fanciful tales she wanted to write. But she just couldn’t manage to get them down on the paper—when she tried, all that came to mind was how few clouds there were in the gorgeous blue sky, how lovely the birds sounded singing outside the window, and how much she’d really rather be outside too.

“Well,” she finally said, posting these meager paragraphs on her blog later that evening, “it’s a start, anyway.”