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.”

July 6, 2014 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Before we kept our appointment calendars on our phones and computers, my husband and I had Day-Timer daily planners with calendars made of that antiquated substance, paper. Even after we stopped buying the calendars, we didn’t throw away the pretty leather covers because we liked them so well. So they just sat in our study for years, at the back of a shelf, until I found them last week.
 

Day-Timer daily planners from 2001

 

The one with brown leather, open to February 2001, was my husband’s planner. The burgundy was mine. After taking this photo for my post, I was going to throw them away, but still hadn’t quite convinced myself to do the deed. After all, some people still have daily planners with paper calendars—they’re not totally obsolete. And maybe there was some other possible use for them. I had to give myself a stern lecture on not rationalizing my clutter before I could bring myself to dispose of them. Technology has been advancing so quickly that sometimes we just have to get rid of old stuff, even though it is not worn out, because it lacks the usefulness it once had.

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!

Once upon a time, when I was a little girl in a world that felt like it was made of stories, my mom would call me away from playing make-believe when it was time for lunch. Usually, lunch was a grilled cheese sandwich with a glass of milk, or a cream cheese and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk. My mom was always a big believer in making sure little girls got plenty of calcium to build healthy bones. She gave me milk with every meal all through my childhood.

She didn’t have as much success getting me to eat my veggies, though she found some creative approaches like telling me artichoke leaves were a special treat because they were so fun to dip in melted butter. (People didn’t worry much about cholesterol and fat in those days.) Of course my tastes changed when I grew up; now I often eat a sandwich on a bun, along with a salad or fruit. But I decided to have something different for lunch today—a grilled cheese sandwich cut on the diagonal, like my mom made.

 

grilled cheese sandwich

 

I never knew why she cut sandwiches like this—maybe so that my sister and I would be more likely to eat the crusts? The grilled cheese sandwich shown in this picture isn’t quite the same, of course. Wide loaves of bread weren’t popular when I was a child, so the bread would have been square; and it would have been white bread, not the whole-grain variety I ate today.

But even though it wasn’t exactly the same, looking at that sandwich on my plate gave me a comforting feeling that all was right with the world. I had a sense of being well cared for, along with a lighter, playful mood. Although it’s not literally possible to go back to childhood (and most of us wouldn’t really want to do that anyway), finding the little things that trigger those memories can go a long way toward bringing feelings of love and nurturing into our present-day lives.

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.

My goal for this year is to clear away the clutter that has accumulated in my life, both external and internal. I want to free up plenty of room in my home and in my thoughts for cultivating peace, beauty, and joy. I don’t need dusty old junk taking up space in my home, and I don’t need depressing negative thoughts taking up space in my head either. All that stuff has to go!

Looking back over my blog entries at the year’s halfway point, I see that I’ve posted much more often recently. I feel that the work I’ve done toward de-cluttering both my environment and my thoughts has made space for creative energy to come out and play! More often now, ideas pop into my head for future posts, and I jot them down without feeling obligated to follow through with any particular one.

In the past when I kept a page of notes about things I had in mind to write, I felt a sense of pressure. It was like looking at a to-do list. The fewer items on the list at any given time, the more pressure there was. In the back of my mind, I worried that I might run out of ideas or that it might take forever to turn any of them into worthwhile entries. To some extent, I’m sure that became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I didn’t fully trust that there would be more ideas where they came from. I also didn’t fully appreciate that a blog is mainly just supposed to be FUN.

Now my thoughts are flowing much more smoothly—or at least, I am having an easier time composing everyday life and stream-of-consciousness posts. I don’t know why I haven’t been writing much fiction, though. When I started this blog, I planned to post a well-balanced mix of stories and essays on the general theme of modern life. Before that I’d been posting stories to creative writers’ private lists, whose members gave me good constructive feedback, and writing nonfiction articles for various projects. A blog combining both types of writing seemed like a natural progression; but this year, for whatever reason, there hasn’t been much fiction coming to mind.

The conventional advice would be to set aside some time every day for writing stories, even if I didn’t feel inspired. As with any other activity, regular practice would help with getting back in the flow. I haven’t done it, though, because I feel as if there ought to be some other approach that does not require turning my fiction into a daily chore. Yes, keeping to a regular schedule improves focus, both in writing and in other areas of life—but all too often, people force themselves to do something and it just feels like drudgery.  By way of comparison, we all know people who run on a treadmill regularly and hate it, but they never take the time to try other kinds of exercise that they might actually enjoy.  Put simply, I want to be more creative when it comes to nurturing my creativity.  I want to invite abundant energy into my life, so that the stories spontaneously bubble over.  And I feel that I’d benefit from looking at it in the same way as finding the right physical exercise—that is, experiment with different ways of going about it, and discover what brings me the most joy.

Have you ever had a time when writing prose seemed easy, but you just couldn’t get your fiction flowing? If so, how did you deal with it?

Edited on July 4: On reflection, I suspect I’m overthinking it. I probably should just do the same as with the nonfiction posts—that is, write down ideas for stories as they come to mind, without putting pressure on myself to complete them in any particular order.

On Friday, my daughter baked macadamia nut cookies with white chocolate chips (yum).  After the plastic measuring cups and spoons got washed, I took them out of the dishwasher and was going to put them away in a kitchen drawer, when I noticed that it looked awfully cluttered. I started taking things out and found a big tangle of old straws at the back of the drawer.

 

straws

 

The straws came with kids’ meals from fast-food restaurants many years ago. Then they got stuffed in the drawer and forgotten. I don’t think anybody even looked at them in the past decade or so. The straw with a man’s head is the “George of the Jungle” cartoon character, and it used to make a noise like a wild man’s yell when you drank through it. The kids thought that was pretty funny at the time. It doesn’t make any sound now; but even if it still worked, the only thing any of us would laugh about is how long it sat around cluttering up the drawer.

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!