I saw a quote about gratitude this morning. “Gratitude turns what we have into enough” taken from a longer thought on gratitude by Melodie Beattie and expounded upon by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Yesterday, as I was purging and packing to move, I ended up throwing out and giving away much more than I am taking with me. I still haven’t let go of everything, but I will have substantially lightened my overall load by the time I’m through with this. And it made me wonder what had changed in me to allow this to happen.
All of my life, I’ve moved from one hobby to the next, searching for that magical, elusive thing that I both love to do and that I do well enough to be able to do it professionally. I hated that every time I would both enjoy doing something and be even slightly talented at it (music, drawing, photography), my mom would tell me that maybe I could make money at it. Somehow, for me, talking about monetizing something I loved took some of the joy out of it. I know now what she meant, but back then, her words had the opposite effect on me of what she was trying to do.
When my mom would push me to practice more at the piano because someday, if I was good enough, I could be a professional pianist, all I could think was that I didn’t ever want to have to play simply because it was a job. When I played, I felt joy. Yes, there was a lot of hard work involved. But I did that work to get it right. There was a huge payoff, a personal accomplishment, in finally getting it right, in playing the piece the way the composer intended. But the idea of having to play according to someone else’s schedule for anything other than my own enjoyment was anathema.
As I grew up and moved on, I let music slide. In its place, I began taking photographs. This time I could see how I could do this artsy thing as a profession. I even pursued and received two degrees in photography. But it turned out that I didn’t know how to be or wasn’t able to be aggressive or extroverted enough to make photojournalism my occupation.
Instead, I got a job. You know, one of those roles that society dictates we need, that no one ever aspires to, that mostly pays the bills. And when I did that, I started looking for new hobbies that would let me continue to express that part of me that the music and drawing and photography were connected to.
So I took up hobbies like cross stitch, crafts, aromatherapy, quilting, and eventually knitting. Cross stitch and quilting taught me that copying someone else’s design and merely executing the craft is so unfulfilling for me that I would rather not be doing anything. I learned that I am a designer first and foremost. So whatever thing I do, for pleasure and/or work, needs to allow me to express myself.
With each different hobby that I tried, I was obsessive. I had to have ALL the options, ALL the tools, ALL the colors. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was desperately trying to fulfill my needs of expression, self-fulfillment, and the need for validation through these various crafts. And in the process, they became a need for things. The things related to whatever the new hobby was. So I collected these otherwise meaningless things.
During this time of hobbies and crafts, I also read. A lot. I also developed social anxiety. Or it simply worsened. I’ve been a relatively withdrawn introvert my entire life. Having to interact with a large number of people due to having school-age children was and continues to be difficult for me.
When I discovered knitting, it felt like I was given the key to unlocking a huge part of myself that had been hidden away, that I didn’t know existed. It felt right and I understood it on a primal level. It also gave me something to do with my hands when in uncomfortable social situations. It was a coping mechanism. But when I was knitting, I wasn’t reading. The first five years that I knit, I read no non-knitting books. Zero. I couldn’t do them simultaneously, so I didn’t read. At all.
Knitting helped open doors for me in terms of meeting other creative people and also giving me a way to cope when those new interactions were more than I could handle otherwise. But I was still collecting (yarn stashing is like a socially acceptable form of hoarding). But I reached my limit in terms of not reading. I went almost 6 years without reading. During this time, when I was preparing to sell my yarn and knitting, I joined Twitter. And started expressing my thoughts in words for the first time in 20 years.
I’ve tried, and failed, to explain how Twitter changed my life. It sounds so cliche and melodramatic. But it’s true. It wasn’t Twitter itself. It was in part, writing again. Or more specifically, the deep desire, the NEED, to express myself in words. It was meeting people who understood this and encouraged me.
An offshoot of this was discovering that I enjoy working with writers as an editor, sounding board, assistant, and cheerleader. And, amazingly enough, others have told me I’m pretty good at these things. Good enough that they wanted to hire me in this capacity. And, I love the work. See, that’s the difference, it’s work, not a hobby. And I prefer it that way. I finally found that artistic thing that is something I’m good at and that I can make a living at, and doing so increases rather than diminishes, my love for it.
And when I found that thing, all the other things, became mere hobbies. I use the word mere to mean only hobbies in the sense that I’m no longer constantly trying to monetize them. No longer taking the pure joy out of them by worrying about how to supplement the income I get from my day job. But in making that leap from how do I make money at these things to how do I do these things for the enjoyment alone, I severely cut back on the amount of time I spend doing them.
Now, I’m purging and packing to move. Again. The last time was three years ago during the worst part of my divorce. I had lived in one house for almost twenty years. All three of my kids had only ever known living in that house. Almost all of my adult memories had happened while I lived there. And, I had accumulated a LOT of stuff. Most of that stuff was either connected to memories or hobbies. Going through it to move to the townhouse I’m now preparing to leave was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. So hard, I gave up and just packed everything, figuring I’d go through it on the other end when I unpacked.
In other words, I found another way to procrastinate. When I unpacked, I threw out some of it, but kept a lot too. Now, I find that I’m in a very different place. A place where I have developed a sense of self, a confidence, a sense of purpose, that I was previously lacking.
While I haven’t knit much in the past few years, each time I did, I went out and got new yarn for the project. Yarn specific to my tastes and needs at that time. Specific to the project. I realized this as I started to go through my stuff again. I had amassed a yarn stash full of possibilities and things I wanted to make. Except that I never got around to any of them. And I also realized that no matter how wonderful that yarn was, the odds of me ever using much of it was somewhere between slim and Are You Kidding Me?.
I also recently read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. It was the way that her book is written, her nonjudgmental voice, that makes this book so wonderful. Her style makes it easier to absorb the lessons. And while I was scared that I would try this and fail, I finally worked up the courage to try it.
So here I am…faced with all of this extra stuff. Stuff I needed once upon a time for reasons I never understood. Stuff that I knew wasn’t important on the face of things. But didn’t know why I felt the need to hang on to it all. Only now, I have more knowledge of myself and my surroundings, and a LOT of stuff to deal with.
One of the things I read or heard somewhere (not sure where or whom to attribute) is if you haven’t used something in a long time, AND you can replace it in under 20 minutes for under $20, you don’t need to keep it. Knowing this, has made pitching a lot of the things that only serve to clutter up my existence.
Some of the excess (clothing in particular) has been donated. The vast majority of the yarn is being adopted by two good friends of mine who create some of the coolest fiber things I’ve ever seen and who love the crafts of knitting and crocheting as much as me. Some craft supplies have gone to another good friend and her daughter’s girl scout troop. But beyond that, I’m pitching a lot. While I know this is not the most eco-friendly way to go about this, I also know I don’t have the energy or time needed to find new homes for this stuff. And honestly, most of it is junk to anyone else anyway.
I’m just so thrilled to have made these connections. To better understand myself. To appreciate all of my loves as hobbies now. To not feel guilty when I go long stretches of time without participating in any of them. To know that I’m simplifying my life and keeping only that which truly gives me joy. That which serves me now.
And on that note, I need to get back to purging and packing and save any more writing for another day.