Apr 27, 2015


It’s a first world problem for sure; perhaps I should characterize it as a first world opportunity.  I have had for many years two tall (4 drawers each), filing cabinets filled with, arranged with, abundant with: files, files and more files.

In the beginning the files were in order by drawer, by category, by frequency of use, by color.  I was always amazed at how efficient the order was and how I could always find what I was looking for. I was once one of those people that kept copies of monthly utility bills. I am still one of those people that keeps the manuals of all major appliances currently in the house. I recently found files with all the resignation letters I’d ever written.  REALLY ?

Yesterday I was surprised,  I found a file with my Kindergarten Diploma from 1965, from the Colegio Internacional de Maria Inmaculada in Panama.  The diploma is signed by Sor Maria Filipina; I still remember her,everyone was afraid of her. She was the strictest nun ever and she never smiled.

And yes you can discern from the information above, the first world opportunity is downsizing, clearing out, discarding, getting rid of paper, recycling records that I don’t need and for sure won’t travel well to the next living space I move to. Not sure when that will be, but I started the process now.  Ana is always encouraging me, she is always clearing out, cleaning out, getting ready for her next move one day.

Actually the tall 4 drawer filing cabinets are being consigned, their near term future is already planned. I am glad to report that 4 of the 8 drawers have been cleared, most of the documentation shredded or headed for the circular secure trash bin at Cox, where the papers will get shredded by large industrial machines before heading to recycle centers.  

I recently read a book that was interesting and extremely insightful about the possessions, the stuff, the objects, the collections, and the overall clutter we have and accumulate over time in our lives. The book is translated from Japanese, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  I am not a fan of the title, it diminishes the reality and honesty of what the book is about and the amazing wealth of knowledge and experience the author shares. 

And certainly it’s not magic, what Kondo shares is a method that IF subscribed to becomes a way of life.  Can the process and results be liberating and feel like magic, well maybe so.  The book has 1900 plus reviews on Amazon, it’s sold over 2 million copies and was on the New York Times best seller list for 25+ weeks.  For more information on the author you can read the recent 2015 article in New York Magazine. Click on the link that follows. 

Marie Kondo wrote this book primarily for a Japanese audience, for people who generally live in much smaller homes or apartments and for a culture that values order and place and respect of possessions. My friend, Pierr, from Seattle recommended the book and I got a used copy for $3 online. 

Passages from the book that I underlined:

“Our possessions very accurately relate the history of the decisions we’ve made in life. Tidying is a way of taking stock that shows us what we really like”

“The questions of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life”.

“That best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t”.

“The space in which we live should be or the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past”.

My travels and time in Ghana certainly prepared me and actually encouraged me to consider and realize the need to have much less stuff, especially stuff in drawers that I don’t see and don’t use. Living in the volunteer quarters at the Kissemah compound for 64 days at the end of 2013, was a significant life lesson for me. 

I remember many, many nights after taking my bucket shower and coming back to the room, looking around and taking inventory of what was in the room.  

A bed, a dresser drawer, a mirror, my suitcases.  My clothes mostly in the drawers, and on hangers behind the door. I  used the top bunk of the of the bunk bed set to keep things readily available:  books, supplies I’d brought for projects, and my shower caddy. In the front section of the room was a love seat made out of rattan, a single chair and a small table. And that was it.  I brought copies of 8 x 10 photos and taped them to the wall. I needed pictures of my family and friends and especially of Maddie and Morgan. I also included one of my favorite photos of Iguazu Falls in Argentina, to keep me cool on those days and nights when the power was out and any relief from the heat came strictly from an active imagination. 

Stuff – in Ghana the people I stayed with and shared space with in the compound have very little in way of possessions.  And I observed them over and over having full, happy, vibrant, yet very simple lives.  I remember in the 2013 visit, when I got some wrapping paper out of my suitcase to wrap a birthday present for Lilian, for when she got home from the hospital, Stefan, Ceci’s grandson, who was then 12 or 13, had never seen wrapping paper before. 

Yes, it was a roll of wrapping paper with pink designs, flowers, and birds, pink is Lilian’s favorite color.  Stefan had no idea what I was doing and why would I cover the books with paper. I had to explain wrapping paper to him. I had a fold out cloth hamper, that was something he'd never seen, I had a very cool tupperware caddy for the daily medications I had to take, he loved that plastic box with the snap on lid and the handle. There were other items, I can't remember. 

Ceci’s house, the largest in the compound, the rooms are simple, they have beds, a dresser, fans, one TV, and the rattan couch. That is it – no closets, no desks, no filing cabinets, no pantry, no inside kitchen, no laundry closet, no hall closet, no inside bathroom, no attic, no garage shelves, none of that.  

And all the children we supported, all their families or caretakers lived in similar set ups, some even simpler.  I stayed in those same volunteer quarters on six visits and every time after my initial Ghana trip in 2011, the idea of less stuff always came home with me, loud and clear and present in my psyche.  Less stuff, less space, less responsibility for things that are taking up space, stored for reasons that in the past made sense, reasons that today don’t.

So I am on a quest, the office upstairs will lose both of the tall 4 drawer filing cabinets soon. The closet in the loft area is next and then the closet in the master bedroom downstairs I am saving for when I get home from my house sitting engagement.  

And during that engagement, I am doing technology house cleaning. My iMAC desktop is going with me and I am uploading all my Ghana photos to a Tumbler site and all my personal photos that I want to keep are going to the Apple Cloud. And some will be deleted. 

This process is different for all, some never consider it and that is OK. How we live and what we surround ourselves with is a very personal and individual decision, compounded by many variables, some controllable, some not.

If you have a family, children and relatives living with you, it’s much more complicated.  There is your stuff, house stuff, their stuff – layers of people, mindsets, needs, wants, reasons, justifications, it can get complicated. 

Certainly I am learning and certainly I am getting acquainted with things I forgot I had, like the Kinder diploma.  

I am thankful that most everything I am tidying up as Marie Kondo calls the process, I can recycle, donate and/or consign.  And certainly the biggest lesson and daily reminder, I am blessed.  I am grateful, I am grateful, I am grateful.