Bushwhacking for Hipsters #6: A Little Side-Trip

Every journey seems to have unexpected “side trips”, where, despite your best intentions, you move off-target and find yourself in a place you hadn’t planned on.

At times, these deviations from your path can feel like lead weights, keeping you from moving closer to your goals. And at others, those side trips can be the defining moments of your trip, letting you stop a while and get the full experience of being on the road.

This week, my own journey of life planning was completely detoured. Between the holidays and some very vocal naysayers, I pulled over into a rest area and watched the traffic go by.

This downtime was far from unproductive, however. While I wasn’t moving consciously in the direction of my dreams, or even following the road map on the wall at all, really, my unexpected pit stop led me back to something I’ve known for a long time, and hadn’t really internalized in regard to this current journey.

I’ve always read, in book after book, that the state of one’s environment can pretty accurately reflect the state of one’s inner environment. That when things on the inside get cluttered up or hectic or chaotic, things outside almost undoubtedly follow the same spiral. Usually, I’ve read these words and nodded to myself, and have gone on with the more practical side of planning.

This weekend, while I sat around waiting for life to happen (as tends to be the case when my husband, a performer, has a lot of bookings that I’m encouraged to attend), I had a good, hard look around at what my environment was trying to tell me.

Because, folks -- it was screaming at me. Piles of undone projects-in-progress all over the place. Dishes stacking up because we were almost always out of the house. Notes and sketches and bits of flyers that were waiting to be processed sat in giant mounds next to my computer on the desk. We won’t even mention how much dog hair can accumulate over the course of a couple weeks when there are three dogs and no time to go get the vacuum fixed (again).

I came home from one of my husband’s performances, fell into the couch in the studio with an exhausted sigh, and thought very hard about tackling the to-do list that had waited for yet another day. There was another gig that night, in about four hours, and there just wasn’t the time to get both of us ready and tackle anything left on that list. Leaning back and closing my eyes for a second, I thought about what I could do with the few free minutes. It all seemed like a jumble, even when I tried to visualize my goals and road map on the wall. How was I supposed to sort all this out?

Opening my eyes, I had the sudden sensation that I was in someone else’s house. When you see your own clutter day after day, it doesn’t register after a while. You don’t look at the piles and see a giant pile of fabric or paper or glue -- you see Project X, with the rapidly-approaching deadline. Or the notes for a book in progress, instead of a precariously-balanced stack of papers that may just fall on your head if you breathe the wrong way. A stack of unread magazines, three of which have been knocked off the table by a wayward dog’s tail, isn’t an energy drain -- it’s a representation of all the good intentions you have toward slowing down and taking care of yourself.

Taking a look around with fresh eyes, though -- it all became crystal clear. I couldn’t work in this space because I could barely breathe in it. There wasn’t any room to do anything productive, because I was far too busy trying to plan my life into such metered “chunks” that there was no humanly way I could keep track of it all. As a result, it piled up -- both figuratively AND literally -- until it was downright dangerous.

I had around 45 minutes before the next load-out for the next show had to begin. I started diving on piles with a critical eye. I asked myself three questions for each of them:

1. Am I realistically going to finish this or am I not interested anymore?
2. Is there a place for this that I can find it again easily?
3. Would it be important to someone else?

For instance, I had a pile that comprised notes for a pattern I was working on, presumably created to eventually sell online. It had fizzled when I ran into a problem that I needed to look up online, to find a better solution than the messy stopgap I’d used. As a result, it was sitting on the work table in a heap, prototype over sheets of notes. From the first question, I realized that no, I really had no intention of finishing this thing. I’d moved on from wanting one of these items, and honestly, I didn’t have it in me to undo what I’d done in order to redo a mistake I’d made early on. It’d be just as easy to redo the whole thing later, when I had the skill to correct it. So the pile was dismantled, and the pieces were put away.

Feng Shui practitioners say that a room has energy, called chi, that can be reenergized by helping it flow, and one way to do that is to clean up areas where that energy gets “stuck”...like piles of undone stuff. Clearing just that one area got me moving, and got the chi flowing again. I begged off from the night’s performance, and ended up staying up almost all night, picking up the rest of the house in the same manner.

Things that were stale or unimportant were dismantled. Things that were still active were put away in a system that made retrieval easy. Items that weren’t of use to me any longer were put in a box to give away to people who would appreciate them. Anything that was obvious garbage or wouldn’t be important to anyone else were tossed outright.

The most important part of the process, aside from finally being able to determine once and for all that there WAS, in fact, a DESK under all the various clutter, was to take a very clear inventory of what was in progress. In my Hipster PDA, I listed out the projects on a separate card, with a notation of where exactly in my house I could find the parts I’d put away. This way, I would know at a glance what I’d been keeping on my worktable, without having to actually have it there to remind me. I pared down the list to just what moved me forward in the goals I’d set for myself, and in the end, got rid of six garbage bags of clutter.

Six garbage bags! Full ones, too. Six bags of things that had been here, telling anyone who came inside that I was disorganized and chaos-filled, and worse, had been sucking my energy to the point of exhaustion.

My side-trip taught me a lot this week. Not to let things pile up. Not to forget to process bits of information before they get overwhelming. To always keep track of where my energy goes, safe on a card in my PDA. And that everything worth doing is worth taking care of. Even though it took a bit of a breakdown to get there, I feel calmer now, and better prepared to go forward with my other goals.

And I certainly won’t underestimate the power of some downtime again.

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Brava! Congratulations on

Brava! Congratulations on conquering your 'not in progress any longer' project clutter.

I think that's one of the hardest types. You've invested time, money, supplies, thought in that project -- how can you bear to throw it away???

So far I've only ever managed to kill off one project. It was a sweater I started knitting....in 1985. I didn't like the style any more, but dang! I'd bought nearly $50 worth of special wool for it, and new needles, too, since I didn't have any of a large enough gauge... I'd probably still have the damn thing crammed into my hassock except I made a new friend who loved to knit but couldn't really afford to buy yarns right then because her husband had been laid off.

Now I need to make a friend who is into needlepoint....