The Downsizing Dozen: Finding Focus

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If you really get to know me, you’ll find out that I’m a curious mix of distracted and obsessive. I can go from forgetting to eat in the midst of a mission to darting my attention around in conversations like a squirrel in traffic. I can get nothing else done until I finish that book or stream an entire TV series, and then again I’m capable of hopping from one uncompleted cleaning task to another until I’ve stirred up more dust and chaos than when I began.

Part of why I love practicing minimalism is the clean slate that comes after a total purge of all life’s unfinished tasks and cluttered surroundings. Then there’s a chance to introduce projects one at a time, while establishing a balanced routine that doesn’t neglect eating, sleeping and human interaction. I say there’s a chance, because more often than not, my mind remains cluttered and my attention span scattered enough to undo that lovely empty potential that I’ve cleared.

But the very act of purging has been a meditative focus for me. For years, as I sat in my 1985 suburban tract house that was carefully organized and way too big for the three of us, I would mentally sort through all our possessions to see if they were still needed and necessary, using this purging visualization to calm down my squirrel mind, give me hope for a fresh start and put me to sleep at night. That way, in my dreams at least, I could trash all the unrealized hopes, unfulfilled goals, and creative disappointments in the big subconscious recycling bin in the sky, ready to be reincarnated into some new piece of writing or artwork.

Then came the great Purge and Merge of 2014, when my family unloaded many possessions to move into a small apartment and blend all our activities into shared space. My minimalist meditations were finally manifested, and for months, I was at a loss on what to visualize. Even though there is always something to organize and purge (hello junk mail!), I couldn’t get my teeth into the physical stuff anymore–it was all gone.

And going any smaller right now wouldn’t be wise or practical. So, it gradually dawned on me that what I need to let go now is all that mental clutter I’ve stored my whole life, from revenge for that playground group I was kicked out of in 5th grade, to the college anxiety dreams where I didn’t study for the final exam of the class I hadn’t dropped, to a kick-ass response for the woman who screamed at me in front of my child for parking too close to a school fire hydrant  (I don’t have unresolved anger issues, do I?), to a rebuttal for the speeding ticket I didn’t deserve during a speed trap (my first and hopefully my last).

Well, that last run-on sentence is a perfect example of what my squirrel mind is capable of creating every waking moment if I’m not careful. My new reality is this: now that the physical clutter has been downsized and minimized, I have nothing left but to face my mental mess. Even though this is a life class I never signed up for, it would serve me well to attend all the lessons and face that final exam, however long it takes, with or without the speeding ticket.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, Diminished Drumsticks in November, and Dwindling Decorations in December.

The Downsizing Dozen: Case of the Missing Mac

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Well, this has been an interesting October. While one would hardly call me a Luddite, I was reduced to a smart phone, some stolen moments with my husband’s computer, and the throwback of pen upon paper, while my ancient five-year-old laptop was away for updates.

I admit that I was one of the lingering Mac users who still clung to the old Snow Leopard pride in operating systems while the rest of the world marched on to bigger cats, and eventually became mavericks reaching new heights in Yosemite. When links failed to open, secured sites became insecure, and social media lambasted me to change my browser with such frequency that I could’t ignore the situation any longer, I reluctantly scheduled surgery that would require wiping my laptop and restoring its information.

What caused such fear of change? Not so long ago, I eagerly embraced the latest operating system or newfangled gadget that would supposedly enhance my life. In a word, it is “digital,” a battle cry for minimalism, and the blessing and bane of my life. During my Great Downsizing Purge of 2014, and even before, I extolled its virtues while digitizing music, photos and documents, and backing them up in various formats.

The problem with updates and interconnecting devices, however, is that sometimes you are locked out of older program versions after updating, or your phone, computer and tablet can gang up on you in the Cloud these days, deciding to delete everything in your best interests. This, along with the realization that I’ve digitized nearly all my meaningful music, writing and photos since 2003, is enough to give me pause.

So, in October I spent an inordinate amount of time googling worst-case scenarios and possible options while waiting for my beloved word processor to return from Apple’s latest mountaintop, wondering if it could even survive the thin air of progress much less work properly. I’m happy to report that it’s running well with a fresh outlook under the lid, although my old friend came home to find a new grandchild added to the family, a tiny tablet with better retinal vision and response time than its elder.

For now, we’re progressing cautiously, with a bigger backup arsenal, a variety of devices to do the job, and a little more confidence.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, and Following Your Feet in September.