Fair Warning: This post falls into the “what I had for breakfast” category for some people. If you don’t want to read me rambling about things I like about our new home, things I’m getting used to about our new home town, how the move motivated us to take care of overdue tasks, and related topics, you’ll want to skip this. I’ll get back to the craft of writing, my love of all things sf/f, and various culture war issues soon.
So, in case you haven’t been following: we had to move from the place in Ballard that I had lived in since 1996 (and that Michael had shared with me since 1998) this year. On the one hand, it wasn’t our decision to move; on the other, the process by which the new owners of our old building went about it, we had many months notice to prepare and plan. On the gripping hand, we had to also fit in my husband’s surgery and recovery time, plus my work was even crazier with long hours than usual.
We’re still in the process of unpacking. My husband told me that when he mentioned our unpacking activities to some friends, someone commented that if you get all the boxes opened within 5 years you’ve done a good job. When I told people we were moving, I had had a couple different co-workers and other acquaintances tell me things of how many years it’s been since they moved to their current place and how many boxes still haven’t been unboxed.
I found none of these comments either inspiring nor comforting.
The number of boxes we have left to unpack is pretty small, and there are little stacks of artwork and framed photos all around the house waiting to be hung up. My goal at the moment is to have the living room, library, dining room, and kitchen free of any unpacked boxes or other moving detritus by the 15th of this month–when we are hosting the monthly writers’ meeting at our place.
One thing that has been worrying me about the move is my exercise level and related health issues. For most of the previous 20 years I bused in to work each day and walked home (the walk taking a bit over an hour). That long walk was an important source of exercise. I learned a long time ago that exercise of its own sake (such as going to a gym) is just not something I can motivate myself to do. But walk somewhere instead of taking the bus or driving? That I’ll do.
The new place is much further from downtown, so walking isn’t practical. The nearest bus stop is only three-tenths of a mile from the office. The next closest is only five-tenths of a mile… and then because the bus is an express, the next is a mile further out but up on a highway overpass and not really a pleasant place to walk to. On the other hand, the first couple blocks of any walk to those bus stops is up a very steep hill (extremely steep, even), so I get my heart up to a respectable rate no matter what.
I’ve been experimenting since we started staying at the new place, and I now walk up that steep hill, and then keep walking up the less steep next four blocks, going past the nearest bus stop until I reach the place where normal streets merged with highway, then I turn and do a semi-random serpentine for several blocks winding my way back to the bus stop I walked by earlier. I say semi-random because I decide which way to go at several intersections based on the cross-walk signs. I can fairly easily get in a mile of walking this way (using the fitness app on my watch to keep track) before I get to the bus stop.
According to the fitness app (which uses a combination of how much you seem to be moving and your heart rate to determine how much exercise you’re getting) the entire 20-ish minutes this takes (no matter what I do there is time spent waiting to cross several streets) counts as good exercise. Which is funny, because my old route home, which was mostly flat (or at least such a shallow hill that it might as well have been flat) even though it took a bit over an hour to walk, the app usually only counted about 20 minutes of it as exercise. Clearly the early steep hill climb getting my heart rate up is a better start.
Anyway, while I hoped this was a good replacement for the longer walk, I wasn’t entirely certain I believed the watch app. I got some reassurance this weekend. I had a two-day visit with my mom and other relatives, and thus took a limited amount of clothes with me. I kept trying to tighten the belt I was wearing Saturday. It took me a few times before I realized that the reason I couldn’t get it snug was because I’d run out of notches on that belt.
I’ve been slowly losing weight for the last two years. I’d been exercising and trying to follow the prescribed diet for years without success on the weight front. Then once I was on new meds for my diabetes, suddenly weight starting melting away on its own. I’ve been being conservative. When I noticed pants were getting baggy the first time, I didn’t run out and buy all new stuff. I bought a couple of new, smaller pairs, and tossed the two older pairs that looked most worn. Then then I lost some more, I bought a couple more pairs and replaced a few more of the larger. I started buying smaller shirts as well. Then downsized another bit on the pants and so forth. The upshot is that I have several sets of clothes in the current size and one size larger at any time.
Anyway, I had another belt at the house that was shorter than the one I’d taken on the trip, and I can get is snug. But at this rate, in a couple months it will be too big, too. Clearly time to get a few more items of clothing the next size down and to get rid of some of the larger ones. So the weird walk to the bus seems to be providing an adequate amount of exercise.
During the intense parts of the move, I was often really low on energy during those few times I had time to sit and work on either writing or editing. I still got some done, but my productivity was way down. And it still is. There’s something about the new bus route that makes it harder for me to open up an editor on my phone and get some writing in during the ride. That writing time seldom produced huge amounts of work, in part because the old bus ride wasn’t really long. I had thought the new longer route would make writing easier. It hasn’t. I don’t know why. As soon as I open the app and start at the phone, I find myself looking away and not able to focus on any word-making.
To be fair, it’s only been about a month since the really exhausting part of moving and cleaning the old place and such ended. And then we immediately hit rush mode on our main project at work and I started working a lot more long hours than usual. So it’s possible that I just need a week or two of more normal job workload and more manageable home workload before I can get back into the swing of things.
At some point a few weeks ago I made a promise to myself: “There will come a weekend where I don’t have to drive multiple times back and forth on that route from Ballard to Shoreline.” Back in April when I first checked the address on a map, I was delighted that it was so close to the home of good friends. I knew most of the route quite well! Driving up for the appointment to look at the place and decide whether to apply for it wasn’t just familiar, it was comfortable. Driving the route had usually meant we were on our way to spending time with good friends. It was merely 25 minutes each way! But after we signed the lease the route soon became something else. The first weekend we drove the route back and forth at least 9 times. And just about every work night the following week I made the trip at least once.
I’d come home from work, load up the car, drive to new place, unload the car, then possibly do a couple of small things before driving back. While I was out Michael would be packing more boxes. Once I got home I would usually start packing, too. Sometimes I would simply load up the car and drive up again. Then the next weekend it was multiple trips every day again. Until the day of the big move, and we started sleeping at the new place. Then my routine became come home from work, hop in the car and drive back to the old place to pack more little things and/or clean. And so on. Thus did the once familiar and happy-making route become a dreaded chore.
We managed to take at least one night off each week. One night where each of us came home from work and did virtually no packing and there was absolutely no driving back and forth. I didn’t always skip any and all moving activity on the night off. Just not having to spend that time—nearly on hour—in transit was quite a relief.
A couple of weekends ago, when I said to some friends how much I was looking forward to the weekend that I knew would arrive eventually when I didn’t have to drive that route again and again, one friend shuddered and said, “Oh! I know that feeling. Believe me!”
I often describe myself as a “packrat, son of packrats, grandson of packrats, great-grandson of packrats—as is my husband!” But the last few weeks as we went through the most intense part of the move, and even worse now in the downhill phase, I’ve been admonishing myself with the word “hoarder!” Scolding myself and actively trying to amp up the embarrassment I feel when I realize I’ve hung onto something that should have been gotten rid of long ago. Which may sound harsh, but is entirely deserved, I assure you.
For instance, this weekend while cleaning out one of the closes at the old place (a closet next to the bathroom that we have previously referred to as the supplemental medicine cabinet) from which we had packed all the essentials weeks ago, I found a basket shoved in the very back of one shelf that include a bunch of hair ties sorted by color. I stopped using hair ties sometime around 1992 when I decided that my balding had progressed to a point where I should stop putting the long hair in back into a ponytail. So far as I know, Michael has never used hair ties. I recognized the ties and the basket right away, of course. They belongs to Ray. While the chemo thinned his hair a bit, Ray had never been a balding man, and he loved wearing his hair long, dying it interesting colors, and often wore different sorts of hair ties/binders in complementary or contrasting colors, depending on his mood. But Ray died 20 years ago. Sure, in the immediate aftermath of his death, I hung onto all sorts of things that some time later I was able to be a bit more rational about, but this is ridiculous!
It gets worse.
Also way back in the back of that shelf? A good dozen old prescription bottles all with Ray’s name on them. Part of why this is worse is that right after he died, at the request of the coroner’s office, I had bagged up what I thought was every single one of his prescriptions and handed them over. So it has been my belief for 20 years that there were no bottles of his medicine in the house. So clearly I haven’t been paying attention to the things that have been pushed to the back of this closet. Maybe that’s understandable, but…
There’s another closet where we kept tools and some other things. Like the aforementioned closet, we’d already pulled things out we knew we needed to keep some time ago. I knew that most of what we left behind at this point needs to be donated or otherwise gotten rid of, but we need to go through it to determine which things go to an electronics recycler, and which can go to Value Village. I thought that I owned exactly three of those outside light timers. These are devices which are equipped with a light sensor that will turn lights on automatically when the sun sets, and keep them on for the amount of time that you have selected. I believed that I owned three because for several years I used two outside, and then I found a fancier one that had multiple outputs, and I have found a specialized outdoor extension cord with a nifty stake and a lid device. I knew I was being a packrat for holding onto the two that I was no longer using, but what I didn’t know is that I actually owned a total of five of these things, at least one of which looks so shiny and new, that I don’t think it has ever actually been used!
There was a more amusing manifestation last week. While unpacking boxes of things from the kitchen, my husband was sorting cooking tools into piles, then selecting only a few of the best of each category. At one point he said, “We own too many pie servers!” When I disagreed, he said, “The only way we would need this many pie servers is if we hosted an Insane Pie Night!”
Studies have been conducted exploring the roots of hoarding behavior. Most articles, reports, and documentaries focus how hanging onto things relieves anxiety for some people, or on how the behavior is reinforced any time something that the hoarder has kept turns out to be useful for either the hoarder or a loved one. I have tried to explain how guilty I feel any time that I discard something which I don’t really need any longer–how I always hear the voice of my grandmothers, great-grandmothers, great-grandfather, et cetera admonishing me, “You might need that someday!” or “It’s wasteful to throw that away!”
But I think not enough attention is paid to another couple of aspects of human perception that plays into this behavior.
Whatever circumstances we grew up with feel normal; other circumstances aren’t just unusual, but feel wrong. For example, growing up among packrats means that I’m acclimated to rooms being stuffed full of things–bookcases that are packed not just with books lined up neatly, but with lots of extra books and other things stuffed into the spaces above the books on each shelf, behind the books, et cetera. Shelves that are mostly empty, with a small number of figurines or something tastefully displayed look wrong to me. Too much empty space in a room actually grates on my nerves, that’s how accustomed I am to having nearly every space available in a room used for storing something.
When an object is expected, we don’t really perceive it as separate from the environment. One of my friends sums this up as, “Once something has been left somewhere that it doesn’t belong for a couple of days, it becomes invisible to my husband.” I’ve done it zillions of times. For example, I come home from a Christmas gathering with friends with several gifts. Some of the gifts are books or other objects where I already have an idea of where it belongs, so I put them into spots on existing shelves or in a cabinet or whatever. But then there is the cool little toy or gadget someone gave me. I wind up leaving it on on end table or on a spot on a shelf in front of things which belong there, with the sincere intention to figure out later where it belongs… and then it just sits there. I never get around to figuring out where it should go (or whether maybe I should pass it on to someone else). It sits there for weeks or months, until some time when it is in the way. I’ll then pick it up, wonder briefly why it is there, of all places, and then, most likely, set it down in another place it doesn’t belong, where the whole process starts over.
It’s not that I don’t understand the importance of things having a place. Nor that I don’t realize that there is a cost to storing all this stuff I don’t actually need or use. Nor am I ignorant of just how much energy and time I waste looking for things when I can’t remember where they were left. It’s that dealing with it right that moment isn’t a priority, and once the object, whatever it is, has entered the category of being invisible, it never occurs to me to do anything about it when it isn’t actively hindering something.
I don’t have a solution to this. It’s a long hard fight that I have been waging with myself for years. I have reached a point in this move where I’m irritated enough at myself over this, that anything that I feel the slightest hesitation about whether we need it is being chucked into the nearest “get rid of it” box. I’ve felt an enormous sense of relief every time I’ve carried another load of things to Value Village. But I know how this works. I know that while I may be better at it for the next few months, the old behaviors will start creeping in.