This post is about yellowed old lampshades, not about a faithful dog; but I picked the title because there was some canine involvement in this week’s Clutter Comedy. My daughter’s puppy went tearing around the house without paying any attention (as puppies do) and knocked over a lamp that was part of a set of three. The inner ring of the shade, which had gotten brittle over the years, promptly shattered. So we bought three new lampshades and were surprised by how much brighter the room looked without the yellowed old shades—we hadn’t realized how totally worn out they were!
 

Three old worn-out lampshades on a table. 

I’m not sure if replacing lampshades counts as getting rid of clutter, as it doesn’t reduce the amount of stuff in the house. Maybe it belongs in the regular maintenance category instead. But anyway, there is a good lesson here: We often don’t notice when things get worn out because it happens so gradually, our brains get fooled into believing it was always like that. So, whether we’re talking about clutter or about maintenance, it’s important to look around from time to time and ask: Is everything in this room still as useful as when it was new? And if not, should it be repaired, replaced, or discarded?

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 memorable 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!

Getting together with family over the holidays reminds us to feel thankful for our many blessings. It’s a busy time, though, and people often get stressed out by extra chores and disrupted routines. So, in addition to giving to others, we need to keep in mind the importance of taking good care of ourselves. Then we can enjoy taking part in the delicious feast without feeling as if we’ve been cooked like the turkey!
 

Turkey cooked and ready to eat

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Busy crowds and holiday music on store loudspeakers may be okay in small doses, but often they leave us needing to rest and recharge. Meditation, reading, and long walks in nature are ideal for relieving stress and getting into a reflective state of mind. This week I’ve been reading The Way is a River of Stars, in which the author describes walking the pilgrims’ route on the Camino de Santiago. The book is a gentle, peaceful narrative with the cozy feel of a handmade quilt; all the details have been carefully arranged and lovingly stitched together.

Keeping up with regular exercise routines during the holidays is important—not just to maintain weight, but to feel healthier in general. Familiar routines make our lives more predictable and less stressful; and when we don’t let ourselves get too busy for them, we’re sending a powerful message to the subconscious mind that things are under control. Exercise also gets the heart rate up and leaves us feeling invigorated and energetic!

And last but not least: Set aside time each day for personal projects such as crafts and writing, even if it’s only a few minutes. We live in a culture that often dismisses our creative impulses as nothing more than unimportant hobbies, fantasies, and obsessions. But even if we never make any money following our dreams, they are precious anyway because that’s how the authentic self flourishes—by coming out to play!

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.

Do you have particular meditations that you do regularly? I’ve decided to share one of mine after reading the Meditation Mondays series on the blog belovelive, which is always full of lovely photos and inspiring ideas. Its author, Liz, says that “regardless of who we are, finding ways to get in touch with our souls, in whatever way works for us individually, is something that can make life much more rich and bring us a deep sense of peace.”

Sometimes when old negative emotions from long-ago events surface, I work through them by doing a meditation that I call “Recycling.” First, I imagine myself walking along a peaceful forest or prairie path, surrounded by nature. The scene changes each time I finish working through one topic and begin another. Recently I’ve been picturing my starting point as the path shown in the photo below, which I used to illustrate one of my blog posts last month.
 

Path in autumn forest with fallen leaves.

(photo credit: publicdomainpictures.net)
 

The path leads to a riverbank that would be a lovely place if it hadn’t been littered with plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and other trash that needs to be picked up and recycled. Each bottle or other item of trash has stagnant water inside it, so I have to pour that out before taking it away for disposal. The stagnant water looks icky, and sometimes a cold rain starts falling; but I know that I am making at least a little progress toward getting things cleaned up.

While disposing of a piece of imaginary trash, I consider an aspect of the troubling situation. Let’s say that someone involved made an unkind remark. Setting aside my previous judgment that the person was nasty and hateful, I think about other possibilities. Maybe the person felt angry and defensive after having been a target of someone else’s bullying and, as a result, misinterpreted my words. Or maybe I was the one who misunderstood something in the conversation. If the remark was indeed meant to be unkind, the person might recently have lost a job or had a death in the family.

Just reflecting on the fact that there might be other explanations can go a long way toward taking the sting out of the memory; and it also helps to make clear, through this very simple imagery, the burden that results from carrying around old grudges.

My father gave me a micro cassette recorder 30 years ago, when I was a student, for recording lectures. Micro is, of course, a relative term. At the time, it was a great technological marvel because it was small enough to fit into a purse or a book bag, unlike the old tape recorder I’d had since fourth grade, which was the size of a boom box. After my student days were over, the micro cassette recorder somehow ended up at the bottom of my sewing bag, where it sat all these years…
 

Mini tape recorder with cassette. 

It still works, but I can’t imagine ever having any use for it now that videos can be recorded on smartphones. And besides, if I wanted to attend a lecture or other public event nowadays, an official video probably would be posted on the event presenter’s website within a day or two. Time has long since passed that cassette recorder by, alas, and there’s nothing left for it but to meet the sad fate of all clutter!

Edited on November 25: I looked up micro cassette recorders online, and apparently people do still use them for taking dictation. So it’s not completely useless, and I’ll give it to the thrift store sometime this week.

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 memorable 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!

This post is longer than the usual Nurturing Thursday entry, but please bear with me because it is meant as a continuation of last week’s half-baked post, and I hope it will make more sense! Before I got distracted by drama on someone else’s blog about a plagiarism incident, I had planned to write about social relationships in the modern world and how fragile they often seem. Sometimes it feels as if there is nobody we can count on to help us get through life—no safe ground.
 

Avalanche warning sign with mountains in background

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Later I realized why I hadn’t been able to write on this subject while distracted by online drama. It’s all part of the same problem! In the small villages of long ago, people relied on their family and neighbors for survival. But in today’s world, where we just drive to the store and buy whatever we want, it feels like everybody is on their own. It’s good that we have more choices in the modern era—we are free to leave an unpleasant job, an abusive spouse, or a neighborhood we no longer enjoy. But the flip side of having so much freedom is that nobody has to stay with us either, and that feels very scary.

About five years ago, I was involved with an online community that fell apart. Efforts to punish bad behavior (such as by demanding that everyone delete their links to a blog where sexist stuff had been posted) went too far and left the community divided into several warring camps. Nasty gossip and conspiracy theories ran wild. As Elizabeth mentioned last week in my comments, online wrongdoing has to be punished so that the community can feel safe and enjoy blogging. But where do we draw the line to ensure that the punishment doesn’t end up being uglier than the crime?

Our ancestors’ villages had plenty of arguments and gossip too, but there were natural constraints. People knew that they couldn’t get too nasty with each other because they would need help if their barn caught fire or some other calamity happened. But in the modern world, we don’t need our virtual neighbors any more than we need our real-life neighbors. There is always somewhere else we can go; and of course, they don’t need us either. They’re free to tell us to shove off, as rudely as they want, whenever they feel like it.

So, when we put emotional energy into building relationships, it always feels risky. While I don’t expect anyone reading my blog would decide (for example) that I need to be punished for writing a bad Nurturing Thursday post last week, unexpected stuff happens all the time. There is never any certainty because the old rules of social interaction have gone out the window. Some of that is good because we have been clearing away ignorant prejudices, but some of it leaves us feeling vulnerable and anxious. How do we build a culture where people respect, value, and support each other just because it’s the right thing to do?

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.

Motivational authors often advise against using weak words like “should” and “someday” that amount to nothing but idle fantasies, lacking any definite commitment. Such words can lull us into believing that we are taking constructive action when in fact we haven’t done anything. We may think we’re making progress along the road to someday; but really we’re just frozen in place, not moving in any direction.
 

Three-way intersection with light snow. 

While I agree with being careful not to confuse fantasies with action, it’s also important not to jump into action without forethought or to get overly stressed working on plans for everything we might possibly want. “Should” and “someday” can be useful in their proper place, as preliminary steps toward action. Before committing ourselves to act, we first need to reflect on whether the action would be a good thing to do—whether we should do it. If the answer is yes, then we move on to considering the logistics. Although some plans can be made right away, it’s not practical to immediately set an action date for every idea that comes to mind.

That’s where putting “someday” items at the far end of the to-do list comes in. For example, someday I would like to travel to Australia, but right now there are plenty of other things that have higher priorities in my life. So, for now, it’s just a fantasy, and it doesn’t need to be anything else. If I considered it to be more important, I would research the details and put together an action plan, complete with specific dates. But until then, it’s just one of my somedays, and that’s okay.

What’s not okay—and all too easy to do, unfortunately—is to get stuck in a deep rut, avoiding even the smallest changes to our routines because of fear or laziness, while telling ourselves that we should do better and someday we’re going to work on it. In that context, “should” and “someday” are nothing more than excuses for hanging onto bad habits in the here and now. And as excuses go, they’re pretty worthless ones. Although change may seem scary or difficult, often all that’s needed is simply to take a small action each day, building better and healthier habits as time goes by.

In today’s world, there are lots of activities to keep us busy—concerts, sporting events, road races, and more. But what’s to be done with all the T-shirts? For most of us, they’re not everyday wear and just take up closet space, sprawling from one stack into another. We might find uses for them occasionally, such as yard work or painting. They might come in handy for keeping a puppy warm on a snowy November day…
 

Puppy wearing an old T-shirt. 

But in truth, they’re mostly just clutter and need to be dealt with as such. Running that half-marathon 20 years ago might have been fun, but that doesn’t mean the T-shirt has to be kept forever. The memories can be preserved just as well by taking digital photos of the shirts before turning them into rags or just throwing them directly into the trash—and honestly, after decades have gone by they probably aren’t much more than rags anyway.

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 memorable 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!

I had planned to write on a topic suggested by Elizabeth in last week’s comments—the anxiety that comes from not having many close friends or knowing who will be there for us when we need help, as contrasted with our ancestors’ experiences in small, close-knit villages. But instead, I got into a conversation on another blog about standing up for oneself while also maintaining a kind and positive tone, and where to draw the line so as not to react unkindly out of anger.
 

Word-art with image of computer screen saying "Be kind online."

(word-art image courtesy of Bits of Positivity)
 

How do you find the right balance between standing up for yourself online and avoiding unnecessarily negative situations? If someone wronged you online, such as by copying your material without permission, would you publicly demand that they take it down and apologize, in the hope of putting a stop to their bad behavior? Would you decide that the negative energy wasn’t worth it and, after trying to resolve the matter privately, just let it pass? Or would you take legal action? What would you consider the kindest and most self-nurturing way to deal with a situation like that?

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.

 

I recently visited a blog that has a word-art image in the sidebar telling visitors, “Don’t be anxious. Pray instead.” That advice, I would say, is the eleventh step of a recovery program in a nutshell. After completing the previous steps and becoming more aware of past mistakes, it’s not always easy to feel confident about making better decisions in the future. Having messed up so much without even noticing many of the ways we went wrong, how can we feel sure that it won’t happen again?

At Step Eleven of a traditional 12-step program, the remedy is described as follows: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” There are other versions not as closely tied to Christian beliefs as this one; but whatever wording one prefers, Step Eleven is about aligning actions with values. It is an ongoing effort to make decisions based on conscious awareness of what is the right thing to do, instead of just going with what feels good at the time.

So, when faced with a decision, rather than worrying about all the ways things might get messed up, Step Eleven advises finding moral guidance and empowerment according to one’s beliefs. Meditation is helpful both because it reduces anxiety and because it creates a calm, peaceful space for reflection and being present in the moment. There are many questions on which to reflect—for instance, whether a particular choice comes from a place of love, whether others who encounter its results will feel uplifted, and whether it will contribute to or detract from the sum total of happiness in the world.

Of course, we can’t know exactly what the results of our choices will be; and the possibilities are vast. That’s why “improve” is the action word here—it’s all about slowly developing more understanding of what is right and how to get it done, rather than burdening ourselves with unrealistic expectations of making no mistakes. Incremental changes, however small, can be very powerful as time goes by.

Even the simple act of staying focused in the moment helps to keep negative thoughts away. Negativity tends to creep up unnoticed when, instead of being fully aware in the present, the mind wanders off into imaginary scenarios of what might happen in the future or what could have gone differently in the past. Often those scenarios are full of pointless drama and blame, making us feel upset about stuff that doesn’t even exist in real life! Although seeking to improve conscious awareness won’t completely shut off the internal drama generator, it can at least help us to notice more quickly when we have thoughts that need to be shifted in healthier directions.

 

Click here to read Recovering from Negativity, Step Twelve.

I found something on a shelf in my house last week that looked like a cloth envelope. I have no clue how it got there or what its purpose might have been. Maybe it was meant to hold a small pillow? I can imagine something like that being used to protect a small pillow from dust and dirt in the long-ago days before washing machines were invented. I did not make it myself and can’t think of any reason why I would have bought it, so I’m baffled.
 

Something that looks like a cloth envelope. 

Maybe it was included in the package with a sheet set or quilt I bought many years ago, and I put it on the shelf and forgot about it? That’s the only explanation that comes to mind. Anyway, whatever it might have been, one thing is abundantly clear: I have no need to keep it. Clutter, begone!

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 memorable 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!