Tag Archives: Meltdown

Clutterphobia

“Fezzik! Fezzik! Listen. Do you hear? That is the sound of ultimate suffering. My heart made that sound when Rugen slaughtered my father. The man in black makes it now. His true love is marrying another tonight. So who else has the cause for ultimate suffering?The Princess Bride

I knew who else.

Our landlord had just suggested that we might only have two months to clear out of our rented home – or perhaps they would be generous and give us four. The decluttering project we’d started desultorily was nowhere near complete, and the thought of moving without finishing it was the worst of news.

Intellectually, we’d known that decluttering was a precondition to the more mobile lifestyle we were moving towards with “No Pension, Will Travel.” Yet now I looked with dismay at the six or eight half-filled boxes that sat in the shadow of an exercise treadmill that had become a clothes rack. I’d started filling them when my son’s girlfriend had offered to sell stuff on Craigslist for a 50% cut. They broke up over a year ago, and his new love isn’t into online sales.

How is all that stuff going to fit into the new place?

How is all that stuff going to fit into the new place?

I felt in my gut the cost of all this stuff. I became exhausted every time I even thought about it. The burden of it all could turn a minor inconvenience into a near catastrophe. We were electrified. We had to get this lifetime accumulation pared down before three months of packing unwanted possessions bit into our upcoming travel plans.

The following weeks saw us tackle the project with a vengeance. We mapped out a strategy and dug in. Even when we later received a reprieve in moving for a least the next year, we kept the project going. The cost of our clutter – its clash with our plans and intentions – was now too evident to ignore.

In the past few weeks, we’ve delivered a couple of SUV-loads of donations to the local hospice thrift store. Another load went to our younger son who is establishing his first household. We dismantled and recycled the backyard trampoline that had years ago become an oversized hammock. Gone are the cross-country-ski machine that had waiting for a workout for well over a decade and the undersized racing bike that was “just too good to throw out.” There are still six bicycles in the garage for the three of us, not to mention three double kayaks and two treadmills, so we are not done yet.

Three double kayaks, two treadmills, and the Christmas tree's in here somewhere.

Three double kayaks, two treadmills, and the partridge in the Christmas tree’s in here somewhere.

But we are starting to feel energized by the process. There is a surprising liberation in getting rid of something you’ve been unable to part with for years – or even decades. The room that had held our “to be sold” pile for the past year now sports an empty shelf. I feel unexpectedly light every time I see it.

While we are nowhere near finished, we’ve climbed aboard the Declutter Express. In case you’re contemplating your own journey, let me share some of the things that have worked for us.

“Would you like them in a house? Would you like them with a mouse?Dr. Seuss

We established our vision. The title of this blog captures where we’re headed over the coming years. More travel. Long sojourns overseas without taking more than a couple of suitcases. Downsizing, perhaps with some form of collaborative living. All of these are easier with less stuff. And dreaming about them gives us the willpower to go through that next drawer. The next step was to map our trajectory to that dream. We realized that we were likely to be moving two or three times in the next few years, before we settled longer term. We developed a checklist when undecided about whether to keep something. Would you move it once? Would you move it three times? Would you take it to Spain? Do you want it in your “retirement house?” Would you pay to store it somewhere until then – in a locker with a mouse? Well, when you put it that way!

We remembered the best from our past. How many of our most memorable experiences came from our times on the road, with little more than a few changes of clothes to our name. “Remember Costa Rica!” became the family mantra. When the four of us spent six months there, we took four bags – and quickly pared that down to less than two. We traded stuff for experiences, and never looked back.

We got more realistic about how this process was going to work for us. This is something very personal, and depends on your disposition, your schedule, and even your income. After waiting for a year for someone else to sell our excess baggage on Craigslist, it was clear that weekly garage sales and want ads were not in our future. Besides, after recently dealing with the estates of both our mothers, we knew how little cash one generally realizes from selling a lifetime’s accumulation.

Addressing the eWaste problem.

Addressing the eWaste problem.

On the other hand, we like to support a number of charities, and many of them make good use of donations in kind as well as cash. Finding good causes to take our excess is a win-win. It took a bit of preparation, but what helped me the most was putting together a list of deserving and willing recipients so I could quickly decide what to donate where. I say “willing” since many charity thrift stores have lengthy lists of things they won’t accept:, including sleeping surfaces, safety equipment, metal furniture, pianos, pool tables, and almost anything electronic, from stereos to phones to PCs.

This last challenge – finding new homes for unwanted electronic devices – is one of the more difficult. Our only option has been to recycle them through local facilities. These you can often find by spending an hour on the Internet perusing sites like this. Seeing how quickly that shiny new gadget can turn into someone’s disposal problem has made us more thoughtful about our “epurchases.”

The electronic revolution has had another impact on our clutter problem. Growing up in the printed era, I had a great love of books – one that Cheryl shared as well. Most of our oldest possessions can now be found stuffed into the towering bookcases that line most of our walls. With a quick look, I could locate books that date back 50 years or more, and some of those were bought second-hand or handed down from my father’s collection. One of my greatest childhood pleasures was exploring the family library which was loaded with fascinating tomes on some of my favourite subjects. As I started to build my own book collection, one of my motivations was to offer that same literary playground to my kids. But they grew up alongside the Internet, home video, and eBooks – making the home library a bit of anachronism. Over the last few years, I’ve finally made the transition myself, and most of my books come on a Kindle, or from the local library.

Books may be looking for a new home.

Books may be looking for a new home.

Still, paring down that collection lovingly assembled over a lifetime has been a challenge, and it’s been important to find good homes for my “puppies.” Somewhat surprisingly, many places that are still looking for book donations – although absolutely no one wants encyclopedias, National Geographic, or Reader’s Digest abridged classics. So parts of my collection are heading for the local library, the regional library, some private schools, a senior’s facility, a new-immigrant centre, the local hospital, a nearby hospice, a local business collecting book donations for a school overseas – and last week one of the boys asked if he could take some to his new apartment.

So, we’re making progress, and looking at all our stuff no longer evokes “ultimate suffering.” The process of physical decluttering has led to significant changes on the mental front – I’ll share some of that in our next post.

“You have to give up some of The Dream to engage in The Dreaming.– a friend

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for more practical advice to help with your own decluttering project, check these out:

Advertisements

Transcendence, … or Insanity

Is transcendence possible?

No, I’m not talking about the theme of the upcoming movie with Johnny Depp.

Here’s the meaning I’m focused on.  “Transcendence: the state of excelling or surpassing or going beyond or exceeding usual limits, the act of rising above something to a superior state, extending or lying beyond the limits of ordinary experience.”  It’s somewhat relate to “transformation: a marked change in appearance or character, especially one for the better.”

The reason?

I’ve been struggling with the attempt to establish a new “retirement friendly” career, and falling short of my expectations.  Some of the most interesting research I’ve done during this struggle has led me to the websites of coaches who claim that the kind of “career reinvention” I’m looking for will require of me a transformation – to transcend my current limits and experience.

The transcendence of Esmeralda & Quasimodo - from Victor Hugo's place in Paris, France.

The transcendence of Esmeralda & Quasimodo – from Victor Hugo’s place in Paris, France.

For instance, prosperity coach Steve Chandler stresses the need to “choose transformation over information.”  Dane Maxwell and Andy Drish at The Foundation – a startup coaching school – talk about the need for a wannabe entrepreneurs to shift their identity by altering long-held beliefs.

This is both good and bad news.  On the one hand, how hard can it be to change my self-limiting beliefs?  On the other hand, as the definition suggests, this transcendence involves moving to a state “lying beyond the ordinary range of perception, beyond comprehension.”  That seems a tall order.

So, I find myself asking, is transcendence possible?

While contemplating this, I chanced to think about how I was as a young person, during my high school years.  Were there beliefs and attitudes I transcended?

In my youth – in fact, until I was in my thirties – I was convinced that I would never be a father.  I had no interest in children, and none whatsoever in parenting.  This was a done deal as far as I was concerned.  Some people would have children; I would not.  I was so sure that I even asked to have a vasectomy at the University medical centre – they didn’t make it easy, and fortunately I didn’t pursue it.

The transcendence of a different era.  Assyrian human-headed winged lion (lamassu), 883--859 BC (Louvre)

The transcendence of a different era. Assyrian human-headed winged lion (lamassu), 883–859 BC (Louvre)

I’m not sure just what led to my change of heart.  Perhaps it was just meeting the right woman.  Or maybe I saw that underneath that man committed to childlessness was a father wanting to burst forth.  Whatever the cause, from where I now stand, fatherhood is one of the signature accomplishments of my life.  I can’t imagine my life any other way.

I transcended my beliefs of forty years ago.

I can actually find many such examples if I choose to look for them.  I was a “math nerd” when I was in school – other kids used to tease me by calling me “The Physical Einstein.”  The emphasis was on the “physical”: I was someone who flunked Phys Ed.  My interest was in book learning, and if you’d told me that two decades later I’d place in a State Masters Swimming event for the butterfly, I have thought you were crazy.  But I did.  Now, in my sixties, I think little of doing a sixty-mile bike ride, or a fifteen-mile hike in the mountains.  I’m in better shape than I was five years ago, and definitely in above-average condition for my age.  What’s more, this didn’t happen by accident, but from strong commitment over many years.  Another example of transcendence?

At the gun range: something else I thought I'd never do

At the gun range: something else I thought I’d never do

“The Physical Einstein” also hated languages, starting with an excruciating French class in Grade 5, and continuing through years of just squeaking by language exams in high school.  Yet a dozen years after that first hateful exposure, a new way of looking at language learning had me fall in love with the process and become fluent in several.

So perhaps transcendence is possible?

Yet I continue to feel and act is if it’s not.  Reinventing myself career-wise seems to lie “beyond the ordinary range of perception, beyond comprehension.”  Not surprising that something beyond perception and comprehension should be elusive.

But a more detached view, one informed by the experience of over six decades, might suggest a hint of irrationality in my current position.  So I’ve decided to view it as a form of insanity.

“To recognize one’s own insanity is, of course, the arising of sanity, the beginning of healing and transcendence.” ― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Sounds good to me.

A solemn yet heartfelt declaration of insanity

A solemn yet heartfelt declaration of insanity

More than a few unanswered questions

Shedders is our favourite blog. It doesn’t hurt that the author is a long-time friend. Here she writes about one of the many great conversations we had when she and her husband came north for their annual visit last summer – their “Down Under” winter.

SHEDDERS, by Heather Bolstler

IMG_2890We had an interesting conversation at breakfast yesterday. Old friends Paul and Cheryl had met up with Rick and me in Powell River BC for a few days‘ exploration, and we were all relishing the Breakfast part of B&B existence. You may be amused by the familiarity of the threads of our discussion – except for the tragedy and frustration of it.

The conversation began as you might expect with compliments on the fine food served up by Yvonne, our hostess, and then drifted to the very social lifestyle of B&B proprietors. We found similarities with Rick and my Shedders’ co-housing arrangement, and that in turn led into co-housing communities that some of us had recently inspected, here on BC’s west coast.

From there, we fell smack into more dangerous territory. All these retirement communities, we lamented; where have all the children gone? Yvonne wondered why our children tend not…

View original post 832 more words

Broken, … or Declaring a Breakdown?

A serendipitous prod from WordPress has Paul taking a new perspective on an old problem.

Forty years ago, perhaps when I was more impetuous or simply less experienced, I ran for major political office with a fringe party.  We had some good ideas the country needed to hear, but that’s not my focus today.

While speaking at all-candidates’ meetings, or responding to interviewers’ questions, I noticed something very troubling.  Now that I’d put myself forward as “the one with the answers,” I was reluctant to admit that I didn’t have them all.  In fact, I wasn’t even close.  Yet I soon began to speak and answer as if I did.  It was becoming less than OK not to know, not to have it all figured out.  (This realization has been an eye-opener through the years as I’ve watched our political process at work.  I don’t think I was unusual.)

Paul contemplates spilling the beans - or ...

Paul contemplates spilling the beans – or …

I began to notice a few weeks back that I was feeling the same way about this blog.  Having made our declaration about what we were up to, I entangled myself in a pretense that No Pension, Will Travel was unfolding exactly as it should.  In recent weeks, it became apparent that I was shying away from the parts of that declaration that weren’t working so well.  I felt “broken,” and I was resisting it.  This culminated in a case of writer’s block for today’s post.

For the first time, I turned to the WordPress “Daily Post” for inspiration.  There it was: “Breakdown!”  Backed into a corner of my own devising, I had no choice but to tackle this subject.  Having made the decision to proceed, my mind started to turn over once more.

Years ago, I learned of a new way to think about “breakdowns.”  Developed as part of “Conversations for Action” by a Chilean engineer named Fernando Flores, and popularized by Landmark Education, this new context treats a breakdown as something one can creatively declare as an opening to a revised commitment to new, effective actions towards a goal.  Declaring a breakdown becomes the prelude to a breakthrough.  So, instead of hiding my “brokenness,” I’ll declare a breakdown regarding part of our declaration.

While I could declare breakdowns in any of several objectives we’ve set for ourselves, the one I’m focusing on is this:  I have yet to make financially measurable progress towards “post-retirement career options – part-time consulting, telecommuting, and making money from travel.”  The plan that I’ve been working with is focused in the same general areas as this blog, but despite hard work and considerable effort, I’m no closer to a sustainable income stream or “business model” than I was when I wrote Draft 1 of the plan about a year ago.  I haven’t figured out how to be “useful” to the people in my prospective market.  The even bigger breakdown is that I’m broken up about it.  I’m letting it bother me to the point where it’s taken some of the

Not driving Cheryl crazy -- priceless!

Not driving Cheryl crazy — priceless!

fun out of the whole project.  That’s the habit I need to break.  It’s not sustainable!  And it’s driving Cheryl crazy!

So, now what?  I’ve declared the breakdown, and recommitted to the objectives.  Now all that remains is to look for new ways to deal with the issues I’ve identified, and discover new actions to take.  Perhaps I need to develop some tighter focus, eliminate some possibilities, clear away some of the time-wasters and other clutter in my life.  I’m looking at ways to increase my confidence, and push my willingness to take some uncalculated risks.  With a renewed focus on taking actions to deal with the breakdown I’ve declared, a post like this one in my inbox offers me some ideas to pursue.  Having admitted that the way I’ve been “broken” has been generating some marital discord, we’ve agreed to find some more productive ways to work on this “breakdown” together.

Cycling the beautiful Dalmatian Coast of Croatia

Cycling the beautiful Dalmatian Coast of Croatia

As I write these words, I see how past declarations of breakdowns – some made more consciously than others – have led to breakthroughs.  Our “travel crisis” while cycling Provence in the rain led to a decision to put together a group cycle trip the next time;  now we have 16 to 20 friends signed up for a biking trip in Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands next Fall.  Finding our friends feeling despondent about retirement prospects led to our starting a Meetup, which has brought new ideas and friends into our lives.  Running low on friends to hike with led to us joining an outdoor club – and now we hike and bike more than ever – and that’s where we’ve met most of our Croatian cycling travel mates.

Sometimes declaring a breakdown seems to have an almost magical power.

Not two months ago, we were unhappy with the unemployed status of one of our sons, a recent graduate still living at home.  After worrying in silence for some time, I chose to declare a breakdown.  Cheryl and I wrote down very specifically what we were saying wasn’t working, and what we wanted to see happen.  This led to a couple of deep conversations.  Next thing we

Working as a team again - but still atop a volcano!

Working as a team again – but still atop a volcano!

knew, our son had a full-time job, a part-time job, and an unpaid internship in his field.  As I said, … like magic!

Not every project goes like magic.  This income project may take some time.  I may find myself stuck again.  You can bet your car that, as I work on some of these new ideas I’m generating, I’ll once again reach a point where I don’t want to admit that there’s “No Pension and Not Enough Travel.”  If you happen to notice, would you remind me to declare another breakdown?

Postscript: while writing this post, I discovered that Flores’ work on Conversations for Action had been collected into a book:  “Conversations for Action, and collected essays.”  I’ll definitely check it out.  Once more, a breakdown has led me to something new.

Trip Technology Meltdown

“And they all moved away from me on the bench…”  Alice’s Restaurant it was not, but rather the dining room on a Rhône river barge.  Through the haze of my technology-induced rage, I sensed our cycling shipmates looking sideways at me.  Cheryl urged me down into the cabin.  As Betsy Talbot of MarriedWithLuggage.com has advised, when traveling as a couple, only one partner at a time can have a meltdown.  This one was mine.

For the past half hour, I’d been fighting Cheryl’s tablet computer, trying to navigate the website of the French national railway SCNF to find a train stop closer to some suburb of Avignon that I’d never heard of.  The technology was winning.  Apart from my not knowing how to approach the route question, the web site kept timing out, and my fingers were struggling with the touch-screen keypad.

Two of our cycling group ponder the Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard.

Two of our cycling group ponder the Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard, a short distance from Arles.

The sun was now warming our cycling days, but the rains of earlier in the week had now swollen the Rhône to the point where authorities had halted all passenger boats.  Our accommodation and transport were stuck in Arles – a wonderful place to be stuck, but stuck nonetheless.  A day and a half later, our most generous Couchsurfing hosts from the Avignon area had promised to meet us at the pier near the Phillipe-le-Bel tower.  Now we had to do something involving trains instead of ships, and I was determined not to make it their problem to plan our route change or to drive even farther to pick us up.  Hence my doomed attempt to find a train station closer to their home.  I felt I had to do it quickly, since our only communication channel was the Couchsurfing website, and time was running out

Cheryl in her current role as the non-meltdown partner suggested I settle for telling our hosts we’d be at the Avignon main station and leave it to them to suggest any alternative.  Obviously, she was right.  In the end, that’s just what happened.  They met us at the station entrance, and we enjoyed two wonderful days of French food and conversation – relaxing and sightseeing in Provence with two wonderful people.

The Roman amphitheater in Arles is now used for Provence-style "bloodless" bullfights.

The Roman amphitheater in Arles is now used for Provence-style “bloodless” bullfights.

The episode with the tablet started us thinking it was time to update our relationship to technology.  If we were to be traveling longer and more often, we would need this kind of last minute planning to be easier.  There are better uses for travel meltdowns.

Having written my first computer program in the late 60s – and still coaxing computers for a living – I should be versed in all the latest gadgets.  However, with Cheryl and me both in long computer careers, we’d made a conscious decision to govern the rate at which electronics entered our family life.  We never had cable TV and we still don’t.  For years, the family had a “screen-free” day every weekend.  We resisted cellphones until we could no longer find a payphone, and even now, we often carry them switched off.  We don’t value being contactable 7×24.  We spent many summer holidays with our boys at an off-grid island cottage, and I left “Search and Rescue” as my contact info for the office.  It worked for us!  You might call us Technology Late Adopters – and only when we think the technology in question enhances our quality of life.

Meanwhile, technology for travel was undergoing a transformation.  In the 70s, the only technology I needed was how to find the metal fiches for the payphones in Europe or South America.  When our family traveled in Costa Rica for half a year in 2000, spending an hour a week in a crowded and sluggish Internet cafe was about it.  Asking directions used to be one way to interact with residents with traveling, and maybe practice some Spanish.  On recent trips, however, people just started telling us to Google it. “No lo sé. Búscalo en Google.”

Our Couchsurfing hosts explained that the dancing was under not on the Pont d'Avignon.

The famous Pont d’Avignon.  Our Couchsurfing hosts explained that the dancing was under not on the bridge.

We’ve been using the Internet extensively to plan and research our travel for the past 15 years, but it looked like it was time to consciously accelerate our entry into the wireless age.  Marital harmony required it.

(In our second half of this post, “Travel Technology for Late Adopters”, we’ll talk about the wireless technology that works for us, while we continue the good fight against the growing tendency to be “over-available”.)