Happy 2019! It’s the evening of New Year’s Day. I should be watching the “The New Year’s Celebration from Vienna,” like I used to so many years ago. Instead, I am still trying to overtake my to-do list from last year (and yes writing this blog post is on it)! If I can just clear out all the little things, I’ll be ready for the new year. I have my doubts as I don’t recall the last time I began a new year with a clean slate, and I’m certainly not going to finish everything tonight.
It got me thinking that I have this little problem — I have a really hard time creating new art if my space is cluttered. I mean, how can I get something sparkly and new accomplished if I’m being stifled by all the unfinished clutter? And yet, I’ve been trying to work around it for years.
I was thinking back to when I was single and living in a cute little one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles. I had a bit of a routine. Every Sunday evening I’d strip the bed, grab the hamper, walk the laundry across the parking lot, put the quarters in, and then spend the next hour tackling the dishes and tidying the living room. After swapping the laundry to the dryer, I’d spend the next hour and twenty minutes making the bedroom look just like I thought a nice bed-and-breakfast would, before going out to haul the laundry back across the parking lot, careful not to drop any socks. I’d put on music or whatever was on Lifetime television while I folded and put everything away and made the bed. Then came the best part; looking around my adorable, tidy little space and breathing in the calm. I’d light a candle or two, and then the creativity and the art would flow. And there’s nothing so comforting as sleeping in the warm, clean sheets of a neatly made bed.
That was a long time ago. I now live with a husband who has his own tolerance levels for clutter, and my 5 and 7 year old kids who, well, enough said, really. But that only accounts for all the “stuff” left in my physical space. What I realized is that the problem is bigger than that.
We live among constant clutter of so many kinds — the noise of video games, binge-watched tv, talk radio, podcasts, streaming music stations, piano practice, shrilling children, cellphone alarms, high-decibel restaurant noise, marketing videos at gas pumps, thousands of daily promos and newsletters arriving at all hours into multiple in-boxes, scrolling infinity through social media, unending mental-load check-lists, adorable recipe blogs, not to mention all the multiple information venues necessary for work…
Not only is it ALL a distraction, the mental whiplash of constantly shifting focus between things that have nothing to do with each other minute by minute is mentally and physically exhausting.
And what’s worse? Although I’m already functioning with a years-long sleep deficit (I mentioned I have young children?) I found myself staying up too late to continue trying to absorb it all! It’s as if I never realized a million years ago that I wasn’t going to be able to read every single book in the library. As if I’d forgotten that if I’m still interested, whatever it is will still be there tomorrow. There will always be an infinite amount of things to absorb and a simple human can only take in so much. Once upon a time I was an extrovert. Not so much anymore. I’ve long-ago joined the ranks of people who turn to yoga and guided meditations for an occasional hour and a half of mindful head-clearing in a too-busy, scatterbrained world.
Back when I was single and living in a cute little one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, my brother, Harris, was living in a very cluttered converted tenement apartment in Brooklyn. Overwhelmed by the clutter, he had basically abandoned his living space to it, and when he had to be home, he lived solely in his bedroom. The problem he had was that he just didn’t know where to even begin cleaning up the mess. He was also an artist and a creative and he was also stifled by it.
I had a very simple solution for my brother. I simply showed up and resolutely dug him out. We got rid of so much garbage and junk and visual noise. Harris wasn’t the bed-and-breakfast type, but his mid-century atheistic just didn’t mesh with clutter. We moved things around and made the space breathe. Back then, I knew that the only way to clean up the clutter was to start with what was in front of you. To start SOMEWHERE.
In the past, I’ve proven not to be that great at New Year’s resolutions, so this year I have only one and that is to be resolute. I picked my personal and professional “defining word” for 2019 and was going to link to a simple definition of the concept in case you hadn’t heard of it but instead I turned up MORE NOISE! A website dedicated to an entire book about why a defining word will change your life, several blog posts about helping you pick your word (I linked to one last January. It’s in my blog archives), and a website dedicated to hooking you up with your virtual tribe of simpaticos who’ve picked the same word! Thanks, internet, for being you.
Anyway, my defining word for 2019 is “discipline.” There’s a lot that’s gong to fall under that heading but that is where I am going to begin sorting and cleaning out the clutter so that I can get on with letting the creativity and the art flow. I’ve got a lot of work to do!