The insidious nature of clutter

In my head I’m pretty good at managing clutter. When my grandfather died I had to clear out a lifetime of his belongings, including heavy suitcases of grade school exercise books dating back to 1926. So yeah, compared to my grandfather I am good at managing clutter.

But now I have had to clear the house in order to sell it I have to face I do not have my shit together.

I received a Lamy LX pen for Xmas. It came in a lovely presentation case. I still have the case in the top drawer of my desk. I do not store my pen in the case. The pen lives on my desk and I use it every day. The case is the very definition of redundant.

 

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Everyone has one of these drawers, right? Right?

Why do I still have it? For some sense of completeness? A fear I will one day want it and find it absent? Why do I have six large rolls of double-sided tape? Why do I own four laptop bags, none of which I use? Why have I saved old planners? Who do I think I will be accused of murdering five years ago, and so will be required to accurately describe my activities and whereabouts on June 14, 2012? I’m hoarding post-it notes like I’m afraid 3M will not only go out of business, but take the technology with them.

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I have packed three cartons of blank journals ready to go to the storage unit that’s costing me $179 a month. There is no shortage of blank journals in the world.

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Important note: I haven’t sewn anything in three years.

Some of it is perfectionism. I’ve told myself I need 15 shades of red sewing thread because if I sewed a garment with the incorrect shade of red then I’d be a pitiable loser who should die in a fire.

But more of it is I’m clinging to a scarcity mindset, rooted in a deep-seated childhood fear of not having something I would be required to produce. And fear of ignorance: of not knowing what I should have. I felt such anxiety at the thought of having to ask to borrow a pen, protractor, or pair of compasses I always made sure I had multiples of everything I would need. I would never risk the chance of having to talk to someone and be rejected. I didn’t have friends at school, and I’ve put that down to my social awkwardness. But it’s likely it also stemmed from my belief that to need help, support, or, in fact, other people at all, was a symptom of being ill-prepared and weak. I wonder if I might have been so desperate to prove my utter independence I never left room for anyone to offer mutual, supportive interdependence.

I live in a prosperous, happy country. I have enough. I do not need to cling to objects through fear.

 

Fuck you, Goldman Sachs

With the kind of impeccable timing I usually have, today as I prepare to list my Auckland home for sale, Goldman Sachs announced the Auckland housing market has a 40% chance of crashing, literally immediately softening house sales and freaking out our stock market.

Well, screw you, Goldman Sachs. I’m going to get a good price for my place from buyers who love it, and everything’s going to work out fine.

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I’m so scared I’m screwing up

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Photo by Brendon Connelly on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

I have three realtors coming next week to appraise my place. The plan for a while now has been to move out of Auckland, but now I’m facing this as an increasingly urgent financial necessity.

As I mentioned last year, my mom had to leave work and she lives with me now. Although New Zealand has excellent public health care, it doesn’t cover things like the neurophysio who helps my mom keep mobile.

As soon as I realized I was financially responsible for both of us I started applying for any and all jobs I was vaguely able to do. I haven’t even gotten an interview. This has not been a surprise. I’m over 40 and  overqualified. As an introvert I don’t have a good network, and in New Zealand most jobs come from who you know.

If it was just me I could live in the back of my car if I had to, and shower at the gym. I’ve given this a lot of thought: it’s always good to have a contingency plan, right? But I can’t ask an older woman with MS to do the same. I have to find somewhere that can be a home for us both, and which I can afford to buy outright.

I’m feeling crushing guilt. I should have been – I should be – a better provider. When I started my PhD I assumed once I finished I’d be able to get reliable, stable work as an academic, which is a sign of my horrible naivety.

As a kid I thought I would run my life more successfully than this. For forty years I’ve been showing ‘potential’ but never managed to turn it into actually being good enough at anything. I feel like I made poor decisions my whole life, and now I’m making another.

I know I’m lucky. I’m lucky I had work for as long as I did. I’m lucky my daughter grew up into a functioning adult and is out there living her life. I’m lucky I snuck onto the lowest rung of the property ladder in the 90s recession. I’m lucky Auckland house prices rose 325% since then. I’m extremely lucky New Zealand has good unemployment benefits.

I don’t know how fast I can sell my place. I don’t know where we’ll go. But now it’s time to jump.

Human-eating sand dunes re-open

 

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Four years after 6-year-old Nathan Woessner got eaten by the Mount Baldy sand dune  in Indiana, the dunes are reopening. Nathan lived even after spending three-and-a-half hours trapped in a narrow hole, and geologists like Erin Argyilan have spent the last four years trying to work out what the hell happened.

Turns out “the entire dune had shifted 134 metres away from the lakefront between 1938 and 2007, swallowing up long-forgotten trees, trails and stairs along the way.”  As the sand-covered trees rotted over a seventy year period, “fungi on the covered trees formed a sort of cement that enabled the sand to keep its hollowed-out shape as the wood decayed and collapsed inward, leaving holes more than 10 feet deep in the dune.”

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The Mount Baldy dune, Indiana. Photo by Gail Fisher on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Tree-trunk-shaped hole, meet small boy. Voila,  a parents’ worst nightmare. My favorite part is Argyilan — who was actually there that day — not believing the parents when they said their son had been eaten by the dune, because science said sand dunes couldn’t be hollow. See, Nathan is an N of 1, and anecdotal experience is not evidence. Statistically, even now, no one has ever been eaten by a sand dune. Argyilan figured the kid was hiding.

After authorities recovered Nathan, still and cold and “gasping like a fish”, ground-penetrating radar found more than 60 spots where the sandy surface covered voids lurking beneath.

And now I’m wondering if there are any skeletons lying unsuspected inside the dune: very thin humans who took an unwary step and didn’t have doting parents as witnesses. One day the dune will move again, and we might all find out. And if you’re visiting the Indiana lakeshore, watch your step.