Thursday, May 28, 2015

Courting redemption

"I'd rather be a forest than a street. Yes I would, if I could, I surely would."

I'm wrestling with another conundrum.

It's not exactly new, maybe more of a different spin on the horns of an old dilemna. Maybe even a whole new horn.

I've written before about my stockpiling issues. I've admitted to my hoarding tendencies.

I keep buying stuff. At the same time, I find myself overwhelmed by how much stuff I already have.

At the same time, I feel completely at a loss about how to pare doen the stuff I have.

And that's partly because on an individual thing level, I'm attached to most of my things. They are my memories. I know where I was when I got them, both physically and emotionally. They are mementos of times in my life, both good and less good.

On a thing by thing level, I like my things. I bought them because I liked them and as I've said before, I like what I like (which is why I have half a dozen very similar t-shirts in various shades of bright pink).

Clothing, although it is one of the things I stockpile, is not really a big part of the problem. I can donate clothing, and I do, regularly. Purple Heart picks it up from my doorstep. Kitchenware, small appliances, even furniture fit into that category. I get a new soup ladle and the old one goes into the giveaway bag.

It's all the other random stuff I have that weighs on me, The collectibles, bric-a-brac, tchotchkes, the little knick knacks from my parents' home, the travel souvenirs, the miniature animals I started collecting 20 years ago. I stopped 10 years ago, and they are still boxed up from when I moved in 2007, but even out of sight, they are not out of mind.

And we might as well cut to the chase and talk about the bead collection.

This morning in a Facebook thread about bead obsession, someone commented, "She who dies with the most beads WINS". That made me laugh. Out loud.

I'm in the running.

There's also the glass collection. Since 2008 I've had to try every color of lampwork glass out there and by try, I mean half a pound for starters if I think I will like it, up to 5 lbs. or more of colors I could not live without - opal yellow, silver pink, uranium pastel, copper green, red copper green, dark pink, dark lavender, to name my top go-to colors.

Then there is something I call glass arbitrage, where I buy colors that I think are sure to be popular. Whether or not I love them (although usually I do) I like to have enough to sell if the supply runs out and the price goes up. Because as much as I love some of the limited runs, I probably won't use them if they are out-of-production. Partly that's because I'm waiting until that magic day when I'm a better beadmaker, and until then, I'm reluctant to waste them. And partly it's because, good lord, there are so many colors out there, with new ones coming along regularly, that I can always find something I like almost as much.

No Tequila Sunrise? Creamsicle or Apricot will do just fine, thanks. I mean the plan is to sell them anyway and customers don't care whether it's Poppy Watermelon or just a pretty shade of generic coral (which comes in about eleventy dozen shades).

But then I start thinking about what will happen to all my stuff when I'm gone. I think about what a burden it will be to sell it. As a kid I loved the idea of a grandma's attic filled with treasures, but as an adult I paid to have my parents' apartment cleaned out, keeping just a boxful of special things. Things that became more of my things.

So every time I weaken and buy more beads for my collection or another coffee mug on my travels, I feel guilty not only that I am spending my kids' inheritance but that I'm creating a nightmare of work and decisions (and more guilt) for my family when I'm gone.

And here's where that old dilemna reared its shiny new third horn.

I thought, what if I just stopped worrying about it?

What if I gave myself permission to indulge, to be a ridiculous person, to buy all the beads I love (or the shoes and clothes and jewelry and dust collectors, even more socks) if it makes me happy and it doesn't break the bank?

I recently finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It's the story of a young woman who responded to the abrupt death of her 45-year-old mother in very self-destructive ways, including promiscuity (while married to a loving, supportive man) and heroin use. Four years later, divorced and aware that she is butchering her life, she decides, with no backcountry experience, to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She believes it is her one best chance to walk her way back to the woman her mom would have wanted her to become.

It can be said again. I love tales of redemption.

It was meaningful somehow that I read the whole book on our trip to California, since for much of the story, Cheryl hiked through California (and eventually Oregon, finishing at the Bridge of the Gods on the Washington state border). When I got home, I bought and watched the movie with Reese Witherspoon playing Cheryl.

In the last pages of the book (and near the end of the movie), Cheryl muses.
What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I'd done something I shouldn't have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I'd done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn't do anything differently than I had done? What if I'd actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn't have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?

It may or may not be related, but the other day, for the first time, I thought, what if I just stop worrying about dealing with my stuff or about who will have to deal with it one day if I don't? What if I forgave myself for being a person with a penchant for buying baubles and just accepted that part of who I am?

I look at my glass, I look at the tools I don't use, I think, I should sell those. And then I think, maybe tomorrow. Because today I don't need the money.

An online friend reminded me anectdotally yesterday of how hard it is to get federal medical assistance when you are elderly and infirm, but you have assets. I learned this with my mom to a degree. She was fortunate. Between my dad's social security, as well as the German equivalent of social security that she received from her motherland (because she worked for a bank before the threatening Holocaust convinced her to emigrate), plus a long-term care insurance policy, she did not have to dip deeply into the savings that she and my dad had earmarked as a legacy for my brother and me.

If my mother had lived much longer, the long-term care policy would have been exhausted and she would have had to become impoverished before she could qualify for the veteran's benefits she would otherwise have received.

So who knows. I won't go as far as to say my kids may be better off if I have beautiful beads instead of filthy lucre, should I become incapacited in my dotage. And I'm sure there are other things we can consider to protect our nest eggs, such as setting up a trust. I also can gradually start shoveling money to my kids as gifts as time goes by, especially once I'm drawing social security and taking required minimum distributions.

Lightening up the load, decluttering and simplifying, all still are on the table. Being more intentional and less impulsive about buying more is definitely still on a front burner. Organizing, paring down, some well-considered de-stashing, all are very much still probabilities.

But maybe I can cut myself some slack, quit beating myself up, stop feeling guilty and just accept myself and my self-indulgences. Oh my gosh, maybe even enjoy my treasures.

What a concept.

If I should die before I get my stuff sorted, well, I'll be dead and I won't care if my kids wind up paying someone to cart it all off, will I?

I won't say I'm there yet. Can't put down the flagellation noodles quite so quickly. But I'm asking the questions. And that's a start.


I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail
Yes I would, if I could, I surely would
I'd rather be a hammer than a nail
Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would

Away, I'd rather sail away
Like a swan that's here and gone
A man gets tied up to the ground
He gives the world it's saddest sound
Its saddest sound

I'd rather be a forest than a street
Yes I would, if I could, I surely would
I'd rather feel the earth beneath my feet
Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz