Stuff and things

This month, I’m getting rid of stuff.  And things.  Well, that’s the plan, anyway.  I suppose we’ll have to see how things go.  Technically, this was supposed to be an “I’ll do it over the whole of the summer” thing, but…well, that didn’t happen, largely due to a whole bunch of work projects.  But now, it’s time to get down to it and at least make a good start before the new semester starts and I’m spending much of my time dealing with teaching-related thing.

I know – and have known for awhile – that I have too much stuff in this small-ish apartment.  If I want any semblance of functionality, organization, and tidiness, I’m going to have to clear some stuff out.  It’s difficult to put things away (and I’m a tad lazy about tidying up), which means that there’s usually some kind of mess somewhere.  Anytime I want to do a bigger project – like canning or starting seeds, I have to move or clean up lot of stuff up first, which is time consuming and takes some of the fun out of the whole process.  Heck, sometimes I have to do that just to sit on the couch and read.

Part of the problem is that I’ve had this understanding of the world for awhile now that includes scary concepts like climate change, peak oil, and economic collapse.  I try not to dwell on them too much, but I’m aware and making moves to help soften what I usually refer to as an uncertain future.

Unfortunately, this means keeping a lot of things.  Useful things.  Practical things.  Backups.  Things that may not be so easy to find or to replace if things get bad.  I have extra cold-weather clothing and sturdy shoes.  Reference books and food.  Canning jars, cast iron pots and pans, and various fermentation and storage containers.  Yarn for socks and fabric for clothing.  Board games and books for entertainment.  Candles and lanterns.  Bikes, a bike trailer, and a variety tools.  And the list goes on…you get the idea.  Right now, this is all crammed into about 700 square feet of living space.  The bike trailer alone takes up a third of the front hall closet.

This also means that I’m rather reluctant to get rid of things that might be useful (and by reluctant, you can safely assume that I spend a lot of time clutching things and cooing “my precious” when I go through this process).  When I work on getting things, what I usually have in my head is Chile’s somewhat humorous view of the future for those who got rid of too much stuff (in light of her Cut the Crap challenge).  Given this understanding of what the world could be (not that it will, but certainly that it could), it’s pretty easy to assume that anything and everything could be put to use in some way, shape, or form, which makes it more of a challenge to put into the donation box.

And so, the challenge right now is to get rid of the things that aren’t necessary, or that I have enough back-ups for.  I really do need the space this will free up so that I have more room to work on important tasks, like food preservation, cooking, sewing, and exercise. Having a bit more space and a tidier apartment would certainly be helpful.  At the same time, I also want to clear some room for some of my wish-list items that I just don’t currently have space for, and that I think are important to have – things like a pressure canner, grain mill, water filter, and really good quality gardening tools.

Today, I start small, and deal with the overstuffed containers and drawers of kitchen utensils.  I’m reasonably sure that there are at least three sets of measuring cups and two sets of measuring spoons lurking in there somewhere (no, I don’t really know why, other than I make far too many trips to the thrift store), plus goodness knows what else.  After that, I’ll tackle one shelf of the overstuffed “linen” closet (which actually contains very few linens, but quite a lot of a whole lot of other stuff).  Ideally, I’d like to turn that into the main space for storage (food, tools, yarn, fabric, and so on), so the more I can get out of there, the better.  These aren’t huge steps, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so a bit of really focused decluttering is the way to go, at least to start with.  Who knows, maybe by this time tomorrow I’ll have dumped half my stuff, leaving only the practical, necessary, and beautiful.  It’s not likely, but a girl can dream…

Veggie powered

For nearly seven years now, I’ve been car-free.  I had a small economy car for two years while I was doing my master’s degree in the big city and commuting a long distance, at night, with very poor public transit options. But technically, the car belonged to my parents.  When I started my PhD in a new city two hours away, they asked for it back.  I was happy to oblige.  While it was fairly low-cost as cars go in terms of gas, maintenance, and insurance (and possibly even pollution, although I’m not completely sure on that), it was still an expense that I didn’t really need or want, and I liked the idea of being without a vehicle.

During the six years of my PhD, I had a bus pass.  It was included with my tuition fees, and was about $50 a semester.  For shorter trips, I walked and biked whenever I could, but by total fluke, I lived right on four bus routes that went to all of the main places that I was usually headed, and so I took the bus quite a lot.  Local public transit isn’t all that convenient due to wonky schedules and no late-night service at all, but it worked well enough for most of what I needed and wanted to do.  As a result, I got used to the bus pretty quickly, and never really looked back.

Then, with the completion of my degree, the bus passes stopped.  I still have to be on campus fairly regularly, and I do a number of other things, and so I once again needed to figure out how to get myself around the city.  I looked more closely at the bus, and found that bus passes are between $60 and $80 a month.  That amount certainly wouldn’t break the bank, but it’s still fairly high considering my income, and I wasn’t that thrilled with the idea of paying for transit regularly.

So I decided I’d try getting to as many places as I needed to go under my own power.  I dusted off my running shoes, tuned up my bike, and started fueling myself for extra exercise – I like to joke now that I’m veggie powered, although I suspect that joke will be getting old very, very soon.

Honestly, it’s been great, and I keep asking myself why I didn’t do this sooner (short answer: the bus was rather convenient for many of the things I did regularly, and I was a bit lazy).  I get a lot more exercise and fresh air.  Walking to campus, for instance, is 45 minutes and biking is 20 to 25.  I listen to music or audio books as I go, which is pleasant.  I see and notice more of my neighbourhood than I ever have before.  I also get a lot more time to think, and have worked through some research and writing challenges while out and about.

It’s not a perfect solution.  Some days are too hot to bike, especially when I have meetings, and sometimes the weather is just too much, like with all the thunderstorms we’ve been having around here recently.  Sometimes I wind up on campus a sweaty gross mess when I underestimate the head and humidity.  Occasionally, people in vehicles simply don’t share the road all that well, or pay enough attention to what’s going on around them.  But by and large, it’s been a great thing to do, and I’d heartily encourage anyone who’s been thinking about making the shift to give it a try.  A bit more exercise, a bit more downtime, a bit more money in the wallet, and a bit less pollution – what’s not to love?

Slowing down

It’s just another day in paradise
As you stumble to your bed
You’d give anything to silence
Those voices ringing in your head
You thought you could find happiness
Just over that green hill
You thought you would be satisfied
But you never will-
Learn to be still
– Eagles

During the year, I’m pretty busy.  I am very lucky to have a job, and I appreciate it greatly.  But I also know that keeping on top of lectures and grading for my classes takes a fair amount of work.  I also have other responsibilities, plus a whole list of things that I always feel like I “should” do (okay, admittedly some of those are really my own doing more than anything else).

Because busy-during-the-school-year is the norm, it’s only recently (during this summer that I was supposed to have at least somewhat “off” from work), that I’ve started to realise just how consumed with work my life is.  I have no idea how it got to be mid-July so quickly, but work has kept me so busy that I’ve barely had a break, and the “to do” list is still pretty long.  While I don’t know that I work a huge amount compared to some people, I do know that it’s become harder for me to put work away and to sit down and just be still for a bit.  Even if I’m not actively working, I’m thinking about it and – worse yet – often worrying about it pretty near constantly.

This really puts a damper on a lot of things.  It’s hard to be in the moment when all I can think about is the stack of reviews that I need to work through, the paper I need to write, or the course prep that I need to do.  It’s hard to enjoy a lot of things I usually quite like when I’m constantly thinking of all the things I haven’t yet done, and all of the things that I really should do in order to be better at my job / make myself more employable / pay the bills / etc.

So, with a month and a half left of summer, I’m on a mission to calm down a bit more and get better about leaving the work behind when I can.  I want to slow down.  Relax.  Take it easy.  Put my feet up.  Downshift.  Chill, if you will.  There’s still work to be done, there’s no getting away from that.  But I want to put the work in its place and not only have some more time for the things I really like to do, but really appreciate and enjoy them more.  Cooking.  Walking.  Reading.  Gardening.  Biking.  Music. Yoga. Writing.   All of the things that work sometimes has me pushing aside.

Part of the problem is that I have a hard time saying no to paid work, since my current job doesn’t exactly pay the big bucks.  Another issue is that I sometimes push off work because I know that it’s summer and I feel like I’m supposed to be having a nice bit of a post-degree break prior to a heavy teaching year.  But when it comes to work, out of sight is very definitely not out of mind and it’s always hanging over my head just the same.  I’m hoping that if I can set out some dedicated work time  – morning, probably – I can get by the rest of the day feeling like I’ve accomplished something and without hearing the siren song of whatever I’m working on.  And without that siren song, I’m also hoping that enjoying the time that I do have to myself will be all the easier.

More than that, though, I think I just need to practice being still a little more and get in the habit of taking time here and there.  I’m used to working a lot of the time, and thinking about work all the time.  Four years with a dissertation hanging over your head apparently does that to many people, as does the constant pressure in academia to take more paid work, do service work, and “publish or perish”, as the saying goes.

Logically, I know that work isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the defining feature of my life.  There’s a lot that I love to do and want to do that doesn’t involve my work life.  I’d like to enjoy it without work constantly in the background or, worse yet, detracting from the experience.  I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to do this yet, other than trying to consign work to one dedicated part of the day and perhaps taking up meditation, but I am determined to make these remaining six weeks of summer count for something beyond just writing papers and planning courses.  And from there, I’m hoping I can keep at least some of this up through the school year – even though work is busy, there’s no reason why it should continue to dominate my life.

And with that said, now I’m off to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  And darn it all, I’m going to enjoy it.