Although my daughter has moved out, I keep finding stuff that she left around the house. This week’s unwelcome discovery was a Snow Cone Maker on a kitchen shelf, along with cups and a half-empty bottle of grape syrup, which evidently was left on the shelf for years when it should have been refrigerated, yuck. The syrup left purple spots on the shelf; I hadn’t realized because it is above my height and I had to stand on a stepstool to see what was up there.
 

Snow cone maker with syrup and cups. 

I threw away the syrup, of course, and put everything else in the basement along with all the other stuff my daughter is supposed to collect. My husband thinks I’m being too nice and should just throw it all away, since she probably forgot about it long ago and “that’s the only way it’s leaving the house.” He is probably right, but I’ll give her just a little while longer…

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!

When I first started writing this post, it was going to be a long comment to an entry on Glory Begin, in which the author thoroughly trashes (and in my opinion, deservedly so) the popular notion that in order to accomplish anything meaningful, one must first identify some all-encompassing purpose giving life meaning. That is common advice from today’s motivational authors—find and focus on a defining passion, visualizing it in great detail and pursuing it as a lifetime dream until, through the mysterious powers of the Universe, it eventually comes true.

Actually that’s not a new idea, but rather a twist on one that goes back much farther in history. Many traditional religions taught that people had a calling from God (or the gods) to follow a predestined path all through life. Back in the long-ago days when social roles were so rigid that changing one’s path was nearly impossible anyway, many folks probably did find that advice helpful. For instance, if you were the son of a farmer or a carter, you’d likely be doing the same work too; and if you saw it as God’s plan, then you’d feel happier and more dignified as you rode around behind your oxen every day.
 

Wooden cart drawn by oxen on a dirt road.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

And of course, there were obvious political benefits for the kings and priests whose obedient subjects believed that their circumstances were their God-given destiny. Nowadays we don’t feel constrained by old barriers of social class like our ancestors did; the modern narrative is that we can do anything if we set our minds to it. But, at the same time, there’s still an underlying belief that we are not really constructing our lives from the choices we make each day—instead, we’re humble pilgrims on a quest to discover and follow a life path already laid down by fate.

Way back in the misty depths of time when I was a confused teenager and life felt like a wild overgrown forest with thorny thickets everywhere, the idea of finding a straight and well-defined path had some appeal. But as I gained more perspective on how quickly the world is changing, I realized that trying to plan an entire lifetime according to one singular purpose was nearly impossible—and even if it could be done, it amounted to a recipe for stagnation.

Like many of us, I have a job that didn’t exist when I was a student trying to pick a major. Most workers in today’s tumultuous economy will change careers several times. As for small business start-ups, most will either fail or, if among the fortunate survivors, will end up getting acquired by some huge diversified company. Even if we love our work and throw ourselves into it with all the passion and clarity imaginable, there is still a high chance that in 10 or 20 years, we’ll find ourselves doing something completely different.

Although it may seem wasteful not to stick with the same plan for a lifetime, exploring different paths is not really a waste of time and energy because it builds a more flexible mindset and a broader set of skills. Entrepreneurs often have a history of trying many different projects and careers before finding success—not by chance, but because their earlier efforts gave them valuable experience that made them better able to recognize a good opportunity when they saw one.

To put it another way, we wouldn’t want a phone or computer with an outdated operating system that didn’t suit our current needs, would we? So, why should we expect our brains to keep on running Life Purpose 1.0 forever, while the world changes around us every year?

This morning it was snowy and blustery when I looked outside. My first reaction was along the lines of, “Oh no, snow again, isn’t it time for spring and green grass already?” But then I thought about the frigid winter we had two years ago, when I posted this February photo of bushes covered in ice:
 

Ice on branches 

I’ve generally been trying to cultivate a habit of asking myself, when I feel like complaining about some trivial thing, “Compared to what?” The truth is, most of the stuff that we complain about is totally unimportant, and often it’s not even bad by comparison to the same thing at a different time!

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.

A few years ago, I ordered blue jeans from a catalog, with embroidered flowers and sparkly dots. Because the model was wearing a long blouse with the jeans, I didn’t see that they were a low-rise style. Otherwise I wouldn’t have ordered them, as I’d prefer not to put my rear end on display when bending over. But when the jeans arrived I kept them anyway, because I liked the embroidery and I had bought the long blouse too, which meant people wouldn’t notice that the jeans were cut too low.
 

Blue jeans with embroidered flowers and leaves. 

But of course, I noticed, every time I put on the jeans. Although the embroidery was pretty, the jeans always felt funny because they weren’t my usual style. So I didn’t wear them much, and after a while it got to the point where the only time I put them on was if I hadn’t done laundry and none of my other jeans were clean. When I saw them at the bottom of the drawer again this weekend, I had to admit that was ridiculous! They are now in a bag for the thrift store, where I expect some teenager will be delighted to find them on the shelf.

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!

After a dark wintery week, I was very glad to see the sun this morning, and I opened the wooden blinds in my family room right away. There’s still no furniture other than a rocking chair because filling in the space never felt right to me, as I mentioned in a previous post. But it’s lovely in the sunshine; and even though the sky soon turned hazy, reminding me of the old song “Hazy Shades of Winter,” all that wide open space left me feeling cheerful anyway.
 

My living room with open wooden blinds on a hazy day. 

Maybe it’s the angle of the sun as it slants more steeply through the windows, reassuring my subconscious mind that spring is not far away. Whatever it may be, I hope that everyone reading this post has a comfortable place at home that inspires cheerful feelings too!

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.

The world felt soft and quiet when I looked outside this morning. We had snow last night—flurries were forecast, but it was enough to cover the ground. Formless gray clouds still hugged the horizon tightly, blurring into the gray tops of leafless trees. The air had gone completely still, without even the slightest wind stirring the neighbors’ flag. All down the row of houses there was only silence. Like a child yet to wake, a young Earth pulled her comforting blankie closer around herself and settled more deeply into her slumber.
 

Row of suburban brick houses on a snowy day. 

Sometime yesterday afternoon, I had changed the image on my digital art display to a church window. I don’t know where it came from—the person who uploaded the photo simply titled it “Quiet.” The foreground is a wide expanse of dark textured floor; it leads back to a nook under a tall window, where a narrow desk sits empty, the chair pushed into a corner. Sunlight slants through the window to the right of the picture, barely illuminating the first few steps of a black staircase. An electric lamp on the desk is turned on, as if inviting a passer-by to sit and read a devotional text. There is another light that hangs from the ceiling, but it looks tiny and insignificant next to the window.
 

Flat-screen display showing a church window with a dark and quiet area beneath. 

When I sat down to write this post, I could hear birds chirping; they know spring is not far away, even though today’s monochrome landscape gave few hints of it. The weather app on my phone said “cloudy,” which was accurate enough. I would have liked to see “cloudy with brightening skies,” but I doubt I ever will, as that phrase would be too long for a busy person’s quick glance. Occasionally when the forecast calls for a dark day with a thick, heavy cloud cover, it uses the word “dreary.” I wish it wouldn’t, as that comes across to me as more of a value judgment than a weather term. Sometimes we need life’s dark spaces with their peaceful stillness, reminding us to pause and reflect, to fully appreciate the present moment of grace.

I decided last summer that it was time to bid farewell to my old kitchen canister set (shown here) because I rarely bake. After that, one of the cabinets still had a shelf with baking items such as flour, sugar, and chocolate chips, which I left alone because my daughter enjoys baking.
 

Flour, sugar, and two half-empty bags of chocolate chips on a shelf. 

My daughter moved out a few months ago, but I didn’t get around to cleaning out the shelf until yesterday. When I looked at the bags, I discovered all that stuff had gotten old and stale anyway, far past its expiration date. I should have tossed it long ago! Vigilance is the price of a clean kitchen.

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 received an email from a coworker on Tuesday with a fun word-art image about spreading happiness like jam, which gave me a smile on a dark winter afternoon. So, I decided to share it for today’s post and spread some happiness for Nurturing Thursday.
 

Word-art image that says "Happiness is like jam. You can't spread even a little without getting it on yourself." 

And, I’m happy to report that when I ate a yummy sourdough English muffin with apricot jam for my breakfast today, I did not get any jam on myself. I hope your day got off to a good start too!

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.

I’ve reached the age where I can expect to get the “are you still” question during routine medical visits (ladies, you know the one I mean). While there are valid reasons for that particular question, I have been noticing how insidiously the word “still” finds its way into all kinds of descriptions as people get older.

It’s commonplace to say, for instance, that she is 70 and still working; or he is 75 and still golfs regularly; or this couple are over 80 and still mentally sharp. Such language reflects a cultural expectation that people will drop out of almost every activity and go into a rapid decline soon after reaching retirement age. Indeed, the word “retire” literally means to withdraw, drop out, retreat, or be secluded or removed. Somehow we’ve built a culture that expects older folks to do little more than sit around like overripe fruit, waiting to rot.
 

Painting of grapes, some overripe, on a table with a wilting carnation.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

That storyline is long overdue for revision, given the fact that the average lifespan has increased greatly over the past century, while at the same time major advances in technology have made it possible to work and be active without need for physical strength. Bioengineering has made the repair of many degenerative conditions a routine matter, and people nowadays have access to disability services and assistive devices.

Our modern society has made reasonable progress toward clearing away many other outdated narratives, so why does that one stubbornly persist? I suspect a large part of it is that whenever we talk about older folks, we are in effect creating a self-fulfilling prophecy for our own lives. Unlike other kinds of attitudes toward groups of people, when we talk about present-day seniors we’re also setting up expectations for our future selves. Our views of old age today become our karma later.

So, we’d all do both ourselves and society a favor by being more mindful about our use of words and not describing older folks’ activities as something they are “still” doing.

Last week my husband left an electrical cord on the floor next to the basement door, apparently meaning to put it away. After it sat there for several days, I said something about it being there for a while. He picked it up, saying he wasn’t sure where it came from or where it should go. Then it ended up being put down again on the carpet next to the couch.
 

Orange electrical cord on the carpet next to the couch. 

Hmmm… that’s not what I meant! Okay, maybe the cord doesn’t have a regular place where it goes. That just means one needs to be found, or maybe it needs to be given away instead, depending on whether or not we’re likely to have a use for it.

Edit, February 11: He did find a use for it, so perhaps my complaint was a bit premature!

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!