clearing my psychic clutter

Clearing my (psychic) clutter, Day 21: Butlers, books and room for what matters


Depending on your age, location and/or proclivity toward old shit, you may or may not have some experience with the mid-last-century cultural icon, Auntie Mame.

The character, drawn in fiction by author Patrick Dennis from his real-life experiences as ward of his real-life aunt, is a free-wheeling spirit (or maybe a high-spirited free-wheeler) who exhorts her buttoned-up nephew and anyone else in earshot to grab life by the horns and ride the shit out of it. I paraphrase**, but you get the idea.

What I didn’t realize, and I’m a big fan of the film, as was my father before me, was how much Dennis took that message to heart. I dialed up Facebook this morning and found the most interesting post from my friend, the lovely and talented Polly Frost. She described a recent serendipitous walk she’d taken through the streets of New York City with Dennis’s former editor, Peggy Brooks, during which said editrix confided, “You do know he ended up working as a butler for Ray Kroc who didn’t know he wrote Auntie Mame.”

It blew Polly away to think that such a talented writer would just walk away from novel writing to become a butler. A few people on the discussion thread suggested, and really, if you’re not participating in discussions like this, you’re kind of missing the whole point of Facebook, that perhaps Dennis had made the move out of financial necessity, not absolute free will and desire. And it’s possible that money may have played a part: he burned through what must have been a considerable sum generated by the books and the rights (Auntie Mame was also the source material for the Broadway play, starring Rosalind Russell, a Broadway musical starring Angela Lansbury and the film versions of both.)

I like to think, though, that he was just done with one thing and ready for another. Having had a recurring fantasy of being the Mailcart Guy for a while, and actually having had the exotic and deeply humbling experience of going from Corner Office Lady to 33-year-old gofer, I get that. It is wildly liberating to shuck off something as big and fancy as a career, especially, perhaps, one that has earned one money and acclaim, and embrace something totally different. Not as an “eff you” move, either, although it does tend to shake up people’s ideas of an ordered universe. It’s about acknowledging that something no longer serves, and releasing it to free yourself up for something that does. Because if it ain’t serving you, it’s clutter.

I ran up against it again with family mementos. Earlier on in the purge, the night of the workshop, in fact, I tracked down and sent an email to one of my father’s old friends, a fine illustrator by the name of Stan Tusan whose work I well and fondly remember from my childhood.*** They had collaborated on a children’s book, apparently, and I found what may be the one copy extant in my Pile O’ Shit that I’m sifting through. While I was fine pitching photos, I could toss 90% and still have more than I could view regularly in a lifetime, it’s much, much harder to throw away a project. I’ve made too many of my own not to get the insane amounts of love and energy, not to mention time, that go into such things.

The email reply stung.

Pitch it, it read, and just about that tersely. I was sure I’d offended somehow, which I generally bend over backwards to not do, as I’m (still…STILL!!!!) so concerned with what people think of me. But pitch it I did, and further down the line, I received more emails from Stan, we’re fine, we’re good, we’re back in friendly touch and neither one of us has to worry about this old thing he made with my dead father. Which, I have to tell you, is probably 100% fine with old Tony Wainwright. The man was sentimental about music and good times and great Spaghetti Westerns, but a keeper of crap he was not. I know: it drove his father, my grandfather, king-god of hoarding against future use, right up the wall of his cluttered-to-the-end study.

Here’s the thing: no one’s right. No one’s wrong. No one can tell me or you or Stan or my grandfather what to keep. (Especially my gramps, unless you’re one of them psychic types.) In the end, though, my grandfather died alone, in a hospital bed, of a broken heart. The most meaningful thing in his life was a person, my extraordinary grandmother, and she’d left the planet several weeks earlier. And her constant refrain, even as she’d hand over some cherished object still warm with her unbelievably beautiful energy? “Sell it!” she’d whisper, gleefully, conspiratorially.

Trade that thing for freedom is what I now realize she meant. Don’t get burdened by your choices; let them liberate you. Let each thing that touches your life enrich you in some way, with joy, with experience, with the understanding born of pain, and let it the fuck go. It is not that thing you want: it is the thing that thing makes you feel.

This is the last day of the clutter-clearing salute. But it is the beginning of a brand new, completely thrilling and not a little bit terrifying chapter of my life.

May it be the same for you, only completely different. And may we both meet up again at some point to share the things we’ve really kept…


*I’ve given up assuming that we all share the same cultural references which means, I think, that I have a shot at becoming a responsible grown-up in the back nine of my life.

**The actual quote I was thinking of is this: “Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” There are quite a few more at IMDb, along with a page for the movie starring Roz Russell. It’s a fab flick, and I recommend you rent it, or check it out from your public library. If you must be acquisitive about it, though, I’d be honored if you’d purchase it via my Amazon affiliate link.

***”My dog has fleas!” I still think of it every time I (try to) whistle. Thanks, Stan!

Image by zoutedrop via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Clearing my (psychic) clutter, Day 20: To-don’t lists


When you take a cold, hard look at them, most to-do lists can be boiled down to a few essential items: work on something important and play with someone important.

I cannot think of a more appropriate way to celebrate today, the fifth anniversary of this ungodly-long-winded blog, than doing just those two things.


(Thanks to Miss Dyana Valentine for pointing out that it was, in fact, the fifth anniversary.)

Image by Colleen Wainwright via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Clearing my (psychic) clutter, Day 19: Contact clutter


I wiped almost a thousand people from my life today in less than two hours.

To be fair, many of them were ‘bots, duplicates and other sync-rot from Google Contacts and Address Book. But a fair number were people, actual human beings, whom I’ve met along the way, one way or another, and either lost touch with or wanted to lose touch with, but didn’t have the nerve to delete.

Pruning one’s address book or Rolodex back in the hard-copy days could be a melancholy affair. Did you cross out that dead (or dead-to-you) person, or let it ride? Did you pull the little white cards from their metal (or later, plastic) spools, conceding defeat, acknowledging opportunities abandoned and hills not conquered? Or did you leave them in there thinking “Maybe…maybe this year I’ll go back and reconnect with Ken over at Spacely Sprockets?”

Today, it seems easier but really, is it? The select/delete action is so simple, but so brutal. Just like that, these people and the promises those relationships once held are gone forever, again and again and again. Almost 1,000 of them, in less than 120 minutes. For every one that was a relief to let go of (and trust me, the photo exercise from Brooks’ workshop primed me for some serious eradication action), there were 10 that were harder, and one or two that made me downright melancholy. Decluttering photos made me feel lighter; decluttering my address book just made me feel that much closer to death.

Okay, it also made me feel like a loser. When I’d see all the information I’d plugged into some of these entries, contacts that I added to be a friend or opportunity collector more than anything else, I felt like there was a big, red “L” stamped on my forehead. Talk about sunk costs! These entries represented hours and hours of my life I’ll never get back: hours I could have put into making something or reading something or just actually being with someone.

We have versions of The Container Store and IKEA’s excellent storage solution porn aids all around us. It is so much easier to feel virtuous rearranging and categorizing than it is to take a cold, hard look at what we legitimately have at our disposal that is of utility.

I’ll talk more about my criteria for cutting (and keeping) later on, in a screencast showing how I organize my contact management system (if you can call Address Book that without laughing).

In the meantime, may I repeat my mantra of the past almost-three weeks: Let go, let go, let go…


Image by Sreejith K. via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Clearing my (psychic) clutter, Day 17: Let go


One old sock
one cracked mug
one pair of outgrown pants
one set of unused silver

One full-on ensemble
of antique dining room furnishings
worth their weight
in baby pandas
and the dreams
of dead people

One of anything
now unloved
still here
will weigh you down
will hold you back

Will fill
the space you give it
and slowly kill
what drew you to it
to begin with.


One of anything
once beloved
let go
will let in
an infinite measure
of the love it held
(or that you hoped
it would).

Let go
let go
and let in
what is not quite there
what has yet to be
what is all around you now
but that you cannot see
for want of room
to view it.


Image by Kevin via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Clearing my (psychic) clutter, Day 16: iTunes clutter (video)

I’ve somewhat neglected the removal of digital clutter thus far in my quest, as I’m home amongst the physical stuff for now and will be removed from it for 2+ weeks while I’m on the road.

I did take some putter-y, relaxation time to declutter my music files over the past weekend, though, and as I was combing through things, sorting and deleting, it occurred to me that there might be some utility in sharing my methods for taming the electronic hydra that is my iTunes folder. This screencast runs down a bunch of tools and tricks I’ve gathered over the years and includes stuff like

  • using tags to create playlists
  • the kinds of playlists (and playlist groups) I’ve found useful and fun
  • setting up a master playlist so that you can let iTunes deejay your whole collection without having that pesky podcast, screaming guitar or Christmas song jump in and stomp on your audio buzz

Show me yer rig! (iTunes edition) from communicatrix on Vimeo.

Remember, if you click the little button in the bottom-right corner of the player, you can watch it in full-screen mode. And if you click through to Vimeo, you should be able to watch it in high-def, very helpful with all that teensy type. Also, I’ve enlarged the mouse pointer thingy this time, which may help with legibility.

Not strictly about decluttering, although it gets one thing off my to-do list!

Please let me know what you think in the comments!


Clearing my (psychic) clutter, Day 15: When to add, when to subtract


Earlier in this hellish undertaking, I tossed off a remark about wanting treats, and wondered aloud what form they should take.

Should they be consumables and services, things like journals and soaps, massages or coaching sessions? Stuff that I can use and enjoy, but that doesn’t stick around and add to the problem I’m working hard to eliminate?

Or should they be strictly time-based: an afternoon off to putter as reward for blasting through a shoebox of old photos, or a couple of hours of daily reading in exchange for 20 minutes of hard-core weeding in my “@action” gmail tag? Given the nature of what I’m trying to accomplish, the removal of items that are blocking my path and obstructing my vision, it would seem counterproductive on the face of things to bring more items into my life. At least, not immediately.

One of the peculiar things I’ve grappled with all my life, though, is this Depression mentality. Or rather, Depression/Rockefeller mentality: either I’m clipping coupons and plotting out which things I save more money on by buying with gift cards vs. paying for with a credit card (my final rule: buy tax-deductible shit on a credit card, and household essentials or groceries or other fun stuff with gift cards), or splurging on a maxed-out 15″ MacBook Pro while I still have a perfectly zippy iMac and an operable, if sluggish, 12″ PowerBook G4. I blame my crazy parents and my even crazier grandparents, both sides, for the problems I have with letting go and with going to town (although admittedly, most people, my shrink included, laugh at my idea of “going to town.”)

So I decided that as long as I was experimenting with pitching crap that was no longer useful, I’d also play around with adding things that I really and truly needed, or at the very least, that would make life easier without putting too much of a dent in things. As LPC, wise scribe behind the magic that is A Mid-Life of Privilege (which you should be reading, if you are not already), said in a comment on my post on traveling cheap, sometimes one must spend a bit of money in the right places to get the most out of both those places and the getting-to them.

Here, then, a list of three pairs of things, stuff I’ve pitched and corresponding new things I’ve put into rotation:

OUT: Almost a full year’s worth of monthly disposable contact lenses for astigmatism. I bought and wore these while I acted, because Casual Moms do not wear nerd glasses (usually). These cost a fuckload of money and were integral to my getting hired and being able to work back in the day. Today, they had become things for which I once paid a fuckload of money and now sat neatly lined up in my top bureau drawer, taking up room and making me feel horrible every time I looked at them.

IN: A new pair of glasses I will actually be able to both see out of and read with. That’s right: bifocals! I’ve tried them once before, but wasn’t ready. Now I admit defeat. Also, the Highway Patrol in OR will kick your ass across the state if you screw up along certain stretches. With a two-year-old RX, I was looking at some PacNW ass-kicking.

BOTTOM LINE, $-wise and lesson-wise: I suck. Okay, I don’t suck, but hoarding doesn’t work. I’ve bought up multiples of lots of things thinking it would save me down the road. Inevitably, I grow tired of the thing before I run out, or grow out of it before it wears out, or the weevils get it, or…you get it, right? Don’t end up like my grandparents, dying with a linen closet full of 20-year-old bottles, glass bottles, of separated hair conditioner. Let it go, Joe.

OUT: Charming and stylish and perfectly fine cosmetics bags with black interiors.

IN: Charming and stylish and brand-new cosmetics bags with light interiors. Because after age 40, you cannot get enough light into your eyes, ever, it seems, to suss out the contents of the Black Hole of Cosmetics Death.

BOTTOM LINE: I foolishly spent 20 perfectly good dollars to replace two perfectly good items. Only they weren’t. Because I’ve already saved a good 20 minutes of fishing time. Ladies! Rise up against the dark interior!

OUT: Bags and bags and bags of clothes. Some that were barely worn. Many that were worn through, “squinty” clothes, where if you squint when you look at yourself in them, you almost can’t see where they’re bagging or threadbare or pulling. Others which didn’t pass the Dorie Test (“Does this make me feel sexy┬á or not?”) or the Palmer Test (“If I saw this in a store today, would I buy it?”). These, by the way, are the two GREATEST questions to ask when shopping or weeding, especially in combination with a style consultation by the brilliant Dorie or her ilk.

IN: Two pairs of brand, spanking new pants from the Gap that actually fit, one of which I took immediately to the tailor to make sure it did. Two new bras, because everything looks better when the girls are in good hands. A slew of new underpants (Mom, I’m ready to get hit by that bus, finally!). And, because dammit, it’s fun, a couple more vintage leather jackets and a pair of completely useless, 100% awesome pants with a Pucci-esque print.

BOTTOM LINE: Like it or not, clothes are costumes. You’ll feel better if you’re well-turned out. I can almost guarantee this.

The most important thing, of course, is the Getting Rid Of. But it is worth looking at where life might be made better by loosening up the purse strings and acquiring: a book you’ve checked out of the library five times might be worth owning your own, non-scum-crusted copy of. A good pair of shoes makes walking easier, and may save you big on knee surgery down the road. The right jacket makes you feel killer delivering a presentation, which can lead to all sorts of wonderful things for you and the recipients of your awesomeness.

And the digging out might turn up a few things of new utility that can stay in rotation. I found a spare USB hub, set it up with a mouse and pad at The BF’s, and now have one less thing to trundle back and forth.

Of course, once I streamline locations, I’ll need to renegotiate my ownership of mice and pads.

But that is another post for another day…


Image by Creole Collection via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Clearing my (psychic) clutter, Day 14: What goes with an empty desk?


My favorite declutter types, Karen Rauch Carter (whose book I wrote about), Brooks Palmer (whose book and workshop I wrote about) and Karen Kingston (whose book I really need to get around to reviewing here), all use one common descriptor to characterize the nature of clutter: sticky.

“Sticky” as in it sticks to what you put it on, sticks to other clutter, and generally, sticks around in your life.

It is also quite sludgy, in that it tends to make you get stuck on stuff, or in stuff, instead of feeling free to move forward freely. Literally, when things get really bad, you’ll find yourself not being able to move around freely in your dwelling space: a box (probably full of more clutter, honestly) that needs to get hauled to the P.O. instead gets put down in your hallway or the center of your office until you can get around to it, and you end up literally walking around it each time you need to move from point A to point B.

Or you have eight black tops hanging in your closet which you have to sift through each time you want that one exact one without the rip you’re really, seriously going to get around to mending one day (if you haven’t put it in the sticky dry cleaner’s pile).

Or you have a bunch of stuff on your desk, each piece of which had a perfectly valid reason for being there at one point, but whose time or purpose has passed and now just remains because you’ve not taken the time to return it to someplace where it “lives” (maybe because that is a mythical place of dragons and fairies).

One of the things I loved about Jen & Charlie’s Work Party was the smallness and fun-ness of it. As in, take five minutes and go put one thing that’s on your desk back where it should go, or sort through one pile of papers, or pitch some crap which was once useful but is now just clutter. Five minutes. Or maybe it was two.

The result of doing a small thing like that is that it is a smackdown, tricky and sneaky-like, of clutter: I’m not clearing my clutter; I’m just moving this one thing five inches to the left. And then at best, you uncork the Mad Power of Creating Order, and go to two, which at the very very least, you reclaim one square foot of precious desk space.

You also (if you’re me, anyway) regain purchase in a busy, cluttered mind. Just a couple of weeks of concentrated letting-go of stuff and I’ve grown much more sensitive to the presence of physical clutter and how it distresses me. I’ve noted how I feel in cluttered space and clearer space, and how much more mental work it is to block out clutter or fight the sticky feeling of clutter when I’m around it. I mean, it’s possible, but with energy in somewhat limited supply these days, I’d rather spend it on the stuff that really matters: work and loved ones.

I do not have eight black tops in the closet anymore; I barely have eight tops, period. But to paraphrase my friend, Chicago Jan, now when I look in my closet, I feel like I can’t make a bad clothes choice.

I’m working on that same feeling with my desk, and that big, sucking hulk of digital detritus perched upon it, my computer. Clutter seems to get stickier as you dig into the layers that are really scary to let go of: old files, someday/maybe ideas and projects, sentimental items or “taste” items like software and media files. The old files, ideas and projects feel like my work, and letting go of them feels like the work never happened. The old media and software files seem to define me, and represent cold, hard cash going out of my pocket.

Time and time again, I have to remind myself that what I really needed from most of those things, I’ve long since integrated. And the stuff I haven’t yet is getting in the way of the stuff I need now, or need next.

How do you, or do you, let go of music and movies, ideas and photos, all the accumulation of a medium-long lifetime?

One at a time…in batches…as you have the strength to…


Image by ngader via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.