Sunday, July 5, 2020

Unraveling My Past

For decades I’d been accumulating books and craft projects. After our kids grew up and moved out, I turned their former bedroom into my craft and writing room. When I accumulated new books and projects, I rarely let go of any I already had. The books were reference sources for me, so I didn’t want to get rid of them. The projects were ones I had hoped to get started on, or get back on track with. What this room really held was my history, and something about that felt precious and worth keeping.

As is bound to happen when you keep adding things to a fixed space, my craft room got fuller. Actually our house got fuller, since some of the stuff buildup spilled over into the rest of the house. There was less and less space for me to work on my projects, or even my writing. It was also becoming more difficult to access things or even find them.

Then my back gave out. All projects were put on hold. The best I could muster was to peek into my craft room periodically and long for the day when I would be able to get back in there and start working on projects again.

Back issues were not unusual for me, but this one was the most debilitating I’d ever experienced. In an effort to find my path to healing, as well as some symptom relief, I started meditating on a daily basis. The introspection that meditation encourages helped me to see the lack of confidence I had in my own voice. The need I felt to find other, seemingly more qualified people, to validate my opinions and viewpoint. This explained why I felt the need to keep so many books. My project accumulation was largely due to my need to finish what I started. If I didn’t complete a half-finished project or if I never started a project I’d bought supplies for, I would feel like a failure on some level. If I kept them, though, there was still hope for me.

Then there was the history factor. How much of my own history do I need to keep? And what about the history of my relatives that has been passed on to me? The books that showed the progress of my learning, the projects that harken back to a specific period in my life, the furniture that belonged to my relatives that have passed on. If I don’t need these things, don’t use them, and they’re taking up space and weighing me down, is it okay to let them go and allow someone else to make use of them?

Through this process of exploring my emotional interior, something shifted in me. I was ready to let go. I no longer needed others to validate my voice. Projects that didn’t inspire me could be thanked for what they had taught me and given to a new home. Possessions that reflected my personal or family history could be reduced to the things that had real meaning and value for me. Reading a Marie Kondo book and watching a few of her Netflix episodes was especially helpful with the family history aspect of stuff accumulation. She advises keeping only those things that spark joy, although I also opted for things that sparked meaning and usefulness.

Once my back was healed enough to handle the physical side of downsizing, I began going through things. Our book collection was a big first step. We had a lot of books...and I mean a lot, far more than most people. We ended up giving away roughly 1,300 books, and we still have about that many left.

A good chunk of my book collection was related to health and healing, as I had spent decades searching for the real causes of various chronic conditions and recommendations for reversing them, preferably with natural methods. I wasn’t able to find the answers I was looking for until I discovered Anthony William’s first book in July 2016. After reading his book, I threw my hands up in the air and said, “Answers! I’ve found them. Finally!!” Four years and five more books later, he’s still the real deal and continues to provide more and deeper information about health and healing...and his recommendations work.

Now that I finally had the answers about chronic illness and how to heal, I no longer needed to search for them. I had previously chosen to keep all my older books as a record of my personal journey in health research, but now I was ready to let them go. I decided to only keep the health books that complemented or added to Anthony’s information, as well as books that were especially meaningful to me.

I had a similar experience with my fiber arts books. Having owned a yarn shop for five years in the late 1990’s, there were lots of memories in those books, even if I no longer had use for many of them. I gave them one last browse and then boxed them up for travel to their new home. Strangely, I kept the majority of my sock books. As a barefooter, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, since I no longer wear socks. But who ever said humans were logical. I really enjoy knitting socks and reading about their history and the techniques that have been used to make them. So the sock books will stay with me for a while longer.

Next it was time to address my fiber, yarn, unfinished projects, and projects I had planned for the future. I started with a deep reality-check breath. I love spinning fiber, but don’t actually spin that much. I had a significant accumulation of yarn, some going back to my yarn shop from 20 years ago, but I no longer knit as much as I used to and had no plans for the majority of the yarn. And then there were the partially finished projects, including partially spun yarn, knitted garments in varying stages of completion, a cross-stitch Monopoly board, and three pairs of socks with only one sock finished. It was time to decide if I really wanted to finish any of these.

I set aside a few bundles of fiber and yarn that still inspired me, and two or three of the partially finished projects. That’s all I would be keeping. Everything else would be finding a more appreciative home. As I went through each skein of yarn and each bundle of spinning fiber, I basked in the memory of where and when I got it. This is something Marie Kondo teaches. Thank each item for the joy it brought and the lessons it taught. Then let it go. Feelings of gratitude add a touch of ceremony to the process, which is calming to the heart.

With the unfinished knitting projects, I started unraveling them so the next person would have fresh yarn to work with, instead of a half-finished project. As I pulled the yarn and watched the stitches unravel, it felt like I was not only unraveling my project, I was unraveling my past as well. Taking it apart stitch by stitch and appreciating where I had been. The whole process of destashing was a walk down memory lane. I felt gratitude for my journey so far, but was finally able to see that I didn’t need to take all of my past into my future.

What will my future hold? I’ve been trying to figure that out for the last decade or so. When we’re young, we’re regularly asked what we want to be when we grow up. Then there’s the expectation for us to finish high school, go to college, get married, and have kids. After that, we’re not expected to do much. In conversation we may be asked what kind of work we do, or did if we retired from that work. Any additional questions are typically inquiring about our past. We’re no longer asked about our plans for the future, because it’s assumed that we’ll just continue to do what we did in the past.

For me, the future is a blank canvas. For as long as I can remember, I have planned to live to 120. I’m 62 now, which means I have nearly 60 more years ahead of me...if things play out as imagined. That’s plenty of time to start something new. My project wish list includes writing, healing, broom making, letterpress printing, sewing, typewriter repair, woodworking, fiber arts projects, plus plenty more things that I haven’t thought of yet...or that haven’t shown themselves as being my destiny.

My craft room is now a wonderfully inspiring place. Three pieces of furniture were moved out, half of the books are gone, and the bulk of my craft projects and supplies have a new home. I removed the closet doors and installed floor to ceiling shelves, which makes my remaining supplies and projects visible and accessible. My letterpress proof press and sewing machines are now situated so I can use them easily and readily. Letting go has been hugely beneficial for my heart, my mind, and my need for creative space. My back and body continue to heal, and I’m getting prepped for my next 60 years. Bring it on. I’m ready.

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