Since I first heard about Andy Warhol's time capsules a few years ago I have been obsessed with the concept. Everyone knows Warhol was totally eccentric, and nobody blames him for it. Warhol was also an avid collector. Someone less successful may have been criticized for collecting junk/treasure the way he did, but not him. It was part of his persona.
In 1974 Andy Warhol moved from one studio to another. I've helped a couple of artists sort through their strange collections of dried up plants and animal parts, materials and supplies, works in progress and valuable art collections. It's no easy task. But dealing with aesthetically interesting or intellectually stimulating clutter reminds me that our stuff can paint a fascinating picture of our lives. (My interest in this phenomenon is the subject of a new blog! Check out www.real-spaces.com.)
Upon arriving at his new studio Warhol was inspired by all the boxes left over from the move. Until his death in 1987 he routinely filled the boxes with present clutter until he had accumulated 612 capsules in a warehouse (pictured below).
"Warhol selected items from the daily flood of correspondence, magazines, newspapers, gifts, photographs, business records, and material that passed through his hands to put in the open box by his desk. Once the box was full he sealed it with tape, marked it with a date or title, and put it in his archive." What an awesome way to clear a workspace in order to focus on the present, and what an innovative departure from conventional methods of dealing with cumbersome memorabilia!
But what I love most about the story of Warhol's time capsules is the intersection of creativity and organization. Warhol was a collector, and yet he recognized that space needed to be cleared. It started as a quirky experiment; "Although various studio assistants frequently handled the boxes over the years, few people seemed to recognize the enormous mass of material as anything other than 'Andy’s stuff.'" Now it's an enchanting and valuable collection, and I hope it inspires you to come up with your own creative solutions for the unceasing influx of stuff.
[Quotes in this post are from http://edu.warhol.org/app_aw_tc.html#about]
In honor of 2012 I decided it was time for another purge. I can't count how many times I have systematically gone through all of my possessions, getting rid of the things that no longer serve me and rearranging what's left so that the energy can flow better through my bigger, brighter space. It just feels so good...when it's all done.
I guess it had been a little too long since my last clutter clearing session, because I had completely forgotten how incredibly hard it is to go through your own stuff and let it go.
The day started out all wrong. After two coke zeros to energize me for a long drive through a snowstorm the night before, I had not slept well. I finally rolled out of bed, feeling like crap, but I was resolved: in order to get the new year started off right, I needed a good cleanse. So I got right to work...seriously, without even eating breakfast.
That was a mistake. After about an hour I was ready to fall over. I ate some oatmeal, reluctantly, and got back to work, working through each room of the house systematically until finally the day was over. I had a fabulous pile of donations and recycling ready to leave through the front door. The bags and boxes filled up my car. Technically, it had been a successful day...
...I still felt terrible. Whatever I was expecting to feel when it was all over (relieved? satisfied? relaxed?) was not how I was feeling! Not even close. I couldn't stop thinking about how many items I had held in my hands, knowing I hadn't worn that dress in over a year and probably never would again, acknowledging that those books from college were no longer interesting to me...and yet I had hung on. Inside my spirit there was a raging conflict between two feelings:
1. a powerful desire for change, freshness, letting go, new beginnings, and wide open space for maximum potential and explosive creation.
2. there is also profound gratitude for my life exactly as it is, perfect in all its imperfections, with an abundance of good things and silly things and awesome memories and potential.
It actually took a second day of work to feel satisfied with my home and ready to embrace 2012. Day 2 involved a massive rearrangement of the space and everything in it. The biggest challenge was a shocker: I was still hanging onto a self-sabotaging belief that I didn't deserve as much space as I wanted! Bullshit! So I've claimed it. Check out this photo of my expansive new home office and go claim your own space. Let your home be the skeleton for the life you want to live.
I am about to delve into one of the concepts that is hardest to explain about the work I do helping people feel more organized every day! Check it out.
I recently had the enormous privilege of attending a meeting of HELLO (Homeless Experts Living Life’s Obstacles) in Chicago. That’s right: youth. These were teenagers and young adults living on the streets of the very city I have lived in for over a decade. I admit I was totally nervous and way outside my comfort zone. Even though I like to think of myself as a compassionate person who values service above all else, I’m struggling to imagine my life without my home.
These young people were astounding. As I looked around at their faces there was nothing that distinguished them from me. I could have passed them by on the street without a second thought, and yet each and every one of them had a lifetime of painful memories and more than a lifetime supply of courage.
How do you strike up a conversation with someone so incredible? What could I say? "Hey, how are you? What’ve you been up to lately?"
They might have said, “surviving”.
Survival is not something I ever have to think about, especially when it comes to shelter. What would it be like to be on your feet all day with no idea where you will be able to sleep or rest in safety or cmofort? What would it be like if you could only keep what you could carry? One young man put it perfectly: “When you’re on the street, it’s like the whole city, the whole world is your living room.”
I can’t help but reconsider a lot of the beliefs about home and space and clutter and organization that I’ve spent a lot of time developing and teaching to others. At the end of the day maybe it’s best to express some sincere heartfelt gratitude for the comfort and security of having a home, a place to rest, to keep our pettiest possessions. As I listened to the youth share their experiences, I saw signs that said, “Housing is a human right.” But it’s also an incredible luxury. Let’s treat it that way.
*The best way to learn more from these young people while offering them the support they deserve is by purchasing a book of their poetry here:
I just bought my copy, and I invite you to cut yourself some slack this week: if disorganization is causing you stress, give thanks for all that you have, and read this book instead of worrying.
I am spending the weekend in silence with a group of Quakers. It’s remarkable. Without verbal communication THERE IS SO MUCH ROOM, TO THINK, TO BE, TO CREATE. It is a relief be HERE, in silence. As I’ve said before, getting away causes the excess to melt.
We live in such a noisy world, and we add to that noise unconsciously. As we sat in a circle this morning to center ourselves there were noises everywhere, and they were loud!
“How is this possible?” I thought. “We left the city to enter into silence, and yet…” Geese were honking, kids were playing, basketballs were bouncing, and the refrigerator was running, doors slamming, shoes squeaking. The cacophony seemed to be building until finally we all just laughed, and privately we wondered about the meaning of silence. Does it truly exist?
I have had stupid songs playing in my head almost constantly between, and sometimes during meditations today. Even though I haven’t spoken a word in 24 hours, my brain is FULL of them. On a walk with my boyfriend I made fun of my own failed attempts to tell him a joke using gestures, wondering a little too late why I had felt the need to communicate anything beyond a loving squeeze of his hand.
In my apartment at home I keep a room as empty as possible. There are beautiful things hanging on the walls, an altar in one corner, and a closet full of stuff, but it still looks EMPTY. I love that room because it offers me a sort of physical silence, as if the excess of objects in other rooms made noise. (Come back next week to see a photo of this room along with the rest of my apartment!)
There have been very few moments today when I thought it might be useful to speak. Most of them were related to trivial things like ‘I think she’s still using that spoon,’ or ‘Maybe you could put your hat over there,’ or ‘I agree the cheesecake was good.’ And then there was another moment when we were all eating together, and I thought how easy it would be to make myself heard if I spoke out of the silence – how my voice would resonate, how easy it would be to stand out. It’s the difference between a single note on the desktop instead of piles and piles of paper files – it matters so much more.
I talk a lot, normally, just because I can, or because silence seems to make people uncomfortable, or because there are trivial details that need to be sorted out. Now I’m wondering, do I waste words? Can I narrow it down? How would this affect my life? Language is a type of clutter. I was never aware of it until now. I’ve sought an escape from noise before, but in many ways this silent retreat is the loudest of all because I am truly listening. I HEAR EVERYTHING. And there is more clearing that needs to be done, always.
In The Four Agreements Don Miguel Ruize says, “Be impeccable with your word.” I think I'm starting to get it.
I’m back in Paris today with a renewed belief in the power of travel. Of course it’s always educational and exciting to visit a different world, but being away from home is even more important. We must put distance between our selves and our homes in order to see them clearly for what they are.
At the Musée D’Orsay there is a remarkable collection of paintings by Seurat and his contemporaries. These are the paintings made up of tiny dots of paint. When you stand close to the canvas you see patterns of light blue and beige. When you stand back you see a circus, or a naked woman! This is a perfect analogy for the way we live our lives. As we navigate a day at work, juggling projects, running errands, getting things done, we see the details. We see the dry cleaning receipt, the subject lines of endless emails, the price tags on deli cheeses, a low phone battery, or a missing button. Now stand back and somehow these details merge with other details to form the masterpiece that is your life!
Standing back can be really hard. It’s not like you can just take a few steps backward and watch your life suddenly start to make sense. Sometimes a deep breath with your eyes closed can seriously interrupt that myopic rushing around, but when that’s not enough anymore, the best thing to do is leave. Breathe some different air, sleep in a different bed, speak a different language, and return home with a fresh perspective.
Looking out over a valley full of trees strikes most people as beautiful. How amazing to think about how many individual leaves come together to make that panoramic view possible!
When it comes to disorganization, some people stand so far back that they become overwhelmed. They see a huge insurmountable task, and cannot overcome it. As an outsider, I am able to look at the pile of junk with fresh eyes, break it down into categories, and come up with simple steps to getting it cleaned up. In order to get it organized we zoom in on each leaf one at a time, never forgetting that it’s part of a tree. In other words, we think about each item individually, then figure out how it fits into the rest of the room, and the rest of our life. If it doesn’t fit, maybe it belongs somewhere else. With a fresh perspective, everything is easier. Figure out how to refresh your own perspective and experience the benefits for yourself.
It can be stressful to come home after a trip, annoying to have to focus on details again after remembering what it means to be alive. When you get home after a vacation, even if you only have time for a quick excursion, pay close attention to what you dread about coming home. Your stress is an important clue about what may no longer belong in your life.
I am in a small town called Uzés in the south of France! At the moment I am sitting in a charming courtyard surrounded by old stone walls. The French pigeons are cooing and old jazz is wafting out of an open window. Like the jazz, everything here is old. Coming from the United States it’s almost unfathomable that the spaces we inhabit could be so extremely old. We find it charming, enchanting when we first encounter the oldness, but in a town called Uzés, you start getting used to it. Today we drove 20 minutes to see an ancient Roman Aqueduct that makes the medieval house we’re renting seem brand new.
After many trips to Europe I’m confident that recycling space is a powerful thing. There is something special about being in an old house, even when it is in a state of disrepair. This afternoon we wandered through a shop cluttered with rusty old tools and other dirty antiques with our mouths open. It was wonderful. The place was full of treasures, priced accordingly! Meanwhile, I’m constantly shopping for new things, just for the sake of having something new. I’m tired of my old things when I’ve had them for a couple of years. What’s the deal?
Working with clients, I encounter new and old things regularly. Some people with shopping habits have closet floors and shopping bags full of clothes with the tags still on. Others have every edition of various magazines since 1952. The new stuff is easy. Put it on a hanger and arrange it by color, or donate it to someone in need. The old stuff is more complicated. It carries magic, memories, and value. It also takes up space, gathers dust, and weighs us down if we don’t consider our motives. How do we deal with old stuff? How do we honor the past without getting stuck in it?
Life seems to move slowly in Uzés. After a couple of days I am breathing deeply, catching whiffs of lavender and autumn. Meals last for hours, and there is nothing quite like a long walk. There is nowhere to be, and everything that seemed so important back home has fallen away. I spoke to the owner of a small shop who had once been a high-end fashion editor. Three months ago she picked up and moved her with her husband and dog, leaving her old life behind. As enchanted tourists, this sounds like a dream come true, but is it? Should we leave the fast pace of the developing world behind in favor of a simpler life of leisure and community and creativity? Out with the old, or embrace the old?
Here is my proposition, and it doesn’t require any life changes, or that you even throw away your old magazines. My suggestion is this: rethink your relationship to time. As I sit here surrounded by stone walls I can’t tell what was built when. I doubt that anyone still lives here who knows which house was built first, which was built from the ruins of an even older one, and which was built ten years ago to imitate the style of older houses. I don’t really know how old – or new – anything is. There is a sense of timelessness hovering here, and it’s exactly what we need. Timelessness is what helps things fall away, both past and future. My attention is on the present moment, on my surroundings. On a delicious glass of wine and that slow drifting jazz.
1. Get rid of as much as possible as often as possible.
Even if you're not planning to move for a few months, it is never too early to start narrowing down your possessions to the items you either need, or love (or both!) Getting started early makes it easier to get items donated and recycled, simplifies packing, and makes it a breeze to unpack once you get to the new place.
2. Take it slow.
Moving is a concentrated, intensified, whirlwind of an organizing project. You have to separate an entire household into boxes knowing you will then have to somehow unpack them into an unfamiliar space. You have to come up with categories, stay mindful of how much the box weighs, move a bunch of heavy stuff, and there's a deadline looming. It's exhausting. I limit my organizing sessions to two hours to prevent burnout. Spread out the work as much as you possibly can, wherever you are in the process. This will help you conserve energy and maybe even enjoy your transition, and it brings me to tip number 3.
3. Seize the opportunity to remember what is most essential.
As you pack up your stuff, then unpack at the new place, some stuff inevitably get left to the end. For example: silverware may get unpacked right away while the Christmas decorations get left out on the sidewalk and you don't even notice they're missing for months. Notice what you need, and what you'd rather put off when unpacking. Continue to let go of the stuff that takes away your energy instead of giving you more energy. Moving is also an incredible opportunity to discover what really makes you feel at home and what you've only been hanging onto because it was free, or belonged to your grandmother. Let the creation of your new space satis
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