it’s a jungle in here

Or it was, anyway.

The photo is of my Eastern European heirloom lettuce seedlings (‘Cracoviensis’), which grew much faster than I’d intended and now are clearly intent on taking over their flat.  I plan to move them to a small, dish-garden style, terracotta planter tonight, as it’s still a bit chilly outside for their liking.  But they must have room — and soon.

(Okay, garden folks.  You may stop reading here if you wish.  The rest of the post will not deal with plants in any way. Shocking, I know.)

I, too, realized recently that I needed more room to breathe.

When F. and I moved in here, we had too much stuff.  Merging the households of two people in their mid-30s was a lot different than merging the households of 20-somethings, and I don’t think we’d realized just how complicated it would be.  The overload of stuff was particularly difficult for me as I work from home and so spend many, many hours surrounded and sometimes demoralized by it all.

Plus, as you all know, I prefer a more Zen setting.  And I don’t like dusting little nicknacks.  No, thank you.

Week five of my year of focus saw me completely rearranging the office and living room, getting rid of so much stuff I did not need, and clearing enough extra space for a new bookshelf (how I needed it!  I am a book magnet) and a little reading nook with a comfortable chair and ottoman beneath a window that faces the forest and through which the calls of our owl are particularly well heard after dark.

My office is now mine alone, and F.’s desk was moved to the living room, where he prefers to study anyway.  Besides opening up a lot of space in both rooms, I am no longer confronted with clutter every time I turn my head while sitting at my desk.

Also included in this reorganization was a downsizing of my projects and supplies.  I gave away most of my art supplies, because the reality is that I rarely make time for collage or painting.  Perhaps twice a year, I get everything out, make a royal mess, and spend a few weeks perfecting the tiny details of a collage that may end up with 20 to 30 layers on it, all sealed and sanded between to give such richness and depth to a scene that would fit in the palm of your hand (examples here and here).

But I had to ask myself a few questions:  Is this something that holds my passion enough to clutter and complicate my life for the other 10 months a year that the materials just sit on the shelf?  What is the payoff for me when I complete these mini works of art?  And is there any other, less cumbersome artistic activity that could provide a similar return?

Answers:  No, the joy of time spent so completely absorbed in creating that time itself seems suspended, and yes, drawing.

I preserved all of the artistic tools for sketching and drawing, which I do love (see example here) and which still give me as much joy as any other artistic medium I’ve ever explored.

I also kept all of my yarn stash and needles for knit and crochet projects as there was no replacement for those activities, and I do enjoy creating something with these materials multiple times per year.  Sometimes making knots with my crochet hook helps me to unravel the knots in my life and psyche.

It was a little bit sad to give away some of the paints and pastels, papers and canvas*, but I knew I was doing the right thing.  Afterward I felt lighter, freer, and with much more energy to put toward writing, photography, gardening, and exercise, which are my four main areas of focus right now.

Just to bring everybody up to speed, here’s a quick recap of the Focus 2010 project.

Rather than making New Year’s resolutions, which I have avoided like the plague for quite a while, I decided to choose a word of the year.  (You can read about why in a post called “the anti-resolution resolution” on my other blog.)  My word for 2010 is, appropriately enough, focus, a word that seemed determined to choose me, rather than the other way around.

Then Elizabeth over at retinal perspectives suggested that those of us choosing a word of the year should take a weekly photograph representing our word or some aspect of our journey with it.  I have been enjoying documenting my word thus far.  It adds a bit of an artistic flair to the saga.

If you’d like to see the first three weeks’ photos, here they are:  week one, week two, and week three.

*If you are a collage artist in need of some wonderful free ephemera and would not mind paying shipping, please shoot me an e-mail at gardenforvictory <at>  I hate the thought of these lovely materials ending up in the trash can, and so am holding on to them while I ask around to see if anybody can use them.  You will appreciate that this is not the sort of thing you can give to Goodwill or The Salvation Army.

30 Responses to “it’s a jungle in here”

  1. Good for you! I call it shedding–I feel the need to get rid of extraneous stuff on a regular basis. Clothing goes to the Red Cross, books to the library or the no-kill cat shelter, tchotchkes to the community yard sale/flea market, etc. I feel much lighter afterwards. I couldn’t tolerate having hubby in the same room as me for work purposes. Much better to have him and his computer in his space, and me and mine in mine.

  2. I have always felt that clutter creates stress. A clean, fresh house, with everything easily found and easily stored in its own space, makes me feel content!

  3. I accumulate so much stuff and I try not to – so I did something similar in my home office to make it more inviting and a place to clear my head. I love the nesting instinct. Focus on, my friend.

  4. It is with great difficulty that I stop myself from saying send it all to me!
    But my studio is all neglected just now – and I am sure I dont go in there because there is so much “STUFF” in there.

    How this post resonates with me Meredith
    (my studio blog)

  5. Meredith, You are quite the talent… I love your drawing. Kudus to getting rid of stuff you do not use … letting go and focusing is a good thing. I had to let go of my loom years ago and feel better for freeing up that space… my feeling being right in there with yours now I would imagine. Your lettuce looks so healthy! Cool photo! ;>)

    • Oh, thanks, Carol. 🙂 I’m one of those weird people who thinks literally everyone can draw, if they take the time to learn to see. I was in my 20s when I figured this out in a basic drawing class. It amazed me to see what we could all do once we learned to see. I understood then Monet’s famous line, “Art is an eye, a hand.”

  6. Paring down really does help focus – even when it comes to something as freeform as creativity. And having a comfy chair for curling up with a good book and good view when taking a break is the best!

    • It’s so true, Talon. And that reading nook has made my week! (Maybe month.) While I can’t get outside, I can snuggle up with a great read and a wonderful dose of birds, trees, and sunshine whenever I look up. 🙂

  7. Good for you! I have a large plastic container with supplies for card-making. Every year, I ponder whether to get rid of it. So far, I have not managed it. I really like your questions though; thinking about them might help me decide whether the container should go or stay – and then let me rest in that decision for now. Thank you!

    • Elizabeth, if the container’s not getting in the way, I don’t see why you shouldn’t keep it. Although your photos make pretty cards on red bubble, I see, so you’ll never be out of options for stationery. 🙂

  8. Ah Meredith, I am a bit of a magpie. I can’t quite let it all go. But glad to hear that you can and feel the better for it!

    • Heidi, I do understand. I’m the girl who keeps the lavender teabag wrapper because it has pretty Japanese characters on it that might be used in a collage one day. Nothing wrong with magpies. 🙂 (Their houses are usually fascinating little museums of life lived.)

  9. I know how difficult it can be to let go of “things”–especially things that relate to your creative life. It’s hard to admit we simply don’t have time to do ALL the fun, artistic, creative activities we want to do. Good for you using your word of the year to focus your creativity. I’m trying to do the same. Just wish I could get my husband to move out of our shared office–we both work at home and it can be quite, ahem, challenging!

    • You are so right, Kathy. It’s almost like admitting we are mortal and facing it all over again.

      I understand the shared office challenge. We’ve only done it for a year, and it was terrible! He kept migrating to the couch in the living room and spreading all his stuff out there, just to get some space, and many times I ended up writing outdoors on the porch — which is fine until it gets cold! Blessings to you both as you navigate the shared space. 🙂

  10. Hi Meredith

    Its so good to free yourself from all that clutter – I can be a hoarder at times and every so many years it all goes and its a great feeling. It must be hard to say goodbye to all those paints but I am sure you will find a good home for them – someone will appreciate them and you have all your creations to look at and remind you of those days. You are so talented as I look through your creations on your other blog.

    BTW I moved seed holders all over the garden – came home tonight and they were feeding from the new birdbox and all the other feeders – the garden was so alive with movement. I had blackbirds, robin, bullfinches, loads of great tits and house sparrows.

    Great lettuce too.

    • Rosie, I’ve found an artist in need for the fine art supplies, and a good friend with two children just approaching kindergarten age can take old watercolors, colored pencils, crayons, markers and some stickers. I think it’s all worked out for the good of everyone concerned.

      Thanks for the compliment, and that’s fantastic news about the seed holders. I’m so glad the birds got over their confusion/shyness. 🙂

  11. I had forgotten how beautifully you draw Meredith. I’m glad you found a home for your unused materials. I still have a container full of blue and cream toile; skeins of yarn, and unopened crochet needles. Perhaps it’s time for me to part with those…

    Your office space sounds nice and serene. Maybe you’ll take a picture of your corner?

    • That is so kind of you, Alisha. Only part with them if you’ve tried them and found your passion wanting — or at least that would be my advice. Unopened crochet needles sound like they’re just waiting for you to have a little time… maybe when the little ones are a bit older?

  12. Enjoyed your post Meredith and it bought back some memories. We merged when I was 30 and himself 35 so there was much to much clutter. We weeded it down but it’s time to be ruthless again. I do like your word of the year.

  13. Another good for you! I consider decluttering to be nearly always a Very Good Thing.

    Goodwill or Salvation Army is out, but do you have a local Freecycle? That might be a way to get it to an appreciative recipient.

  14. Mer
    You seem to be asking all the right questions
    such as what is the payoff for keeping this stuff….
    answering those questions honestly often gets to the heart of the matter.
    I LOVE your drawing of the flower. You have talent.
    I wasn’t aware of the photo a week for your word of the year.
    Mine is listen
    I may want to see if I can photograph that!

    • Gemma, asking the right questions is so hard sometimes. But it always seems to lead me to a new, better place. You and I both practiced this with excellent results during TAW course, I think. 🙂

      I *love* your word of the year. I’d be interested to see if you come up with photos of it. (You’ll need to think outside of the box for sure on that one. ;))

      Thanks for your compliment, too!

  15. I also don’t enjoy having a lot of “stuff”. THough my resolutions are set (this year in the form of “dreams” (3 of them), and “steps to get there”) I like the idea of a single word – and to pair it with a weekly photo is a great idea.

    • Oh, I think that’s a wonderful way to do resolutions, Wendy. In a way, Focus for me has been about clearing the way for particular dreams or areas of my life that need to take the spotlight now. I can’t take credit for the photo suggestion. That was Elizabeth’s brilliant idea!

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