Thursday, January 29, 2004

Embrace the Pig

"Acceptance" seems to be the theme of the week... acceptance and change. The Serenity Prayer — which I mumble to myself rather frequently and declaim aloud in meetings at least once a week — asks God to grant me the serenity to accept the things I can't change, the courage to change the things I can, and (here's the punchline... I love prayers with punchlines) the wisdom to know the difference. It has occurred to me lately, as I survey the trashèd wasteland of my life, that I am peculiarly lacking in that particular wisdom right now. I see that things must be changed, but I don't know what to change, what things are even changeable.

For example, there is the question of my Stuff and the mess of my room. I have tried relocating my Stuff, putting my books and videos and unseasonal clothing in boxes and shoving them down in the basement. That didn't work, because as soon as I ran out of new books or movies or clothing I had to go into those archived boxes to find something to tide me over... so up the boxes come, back into the room and all over the floor as I rummage through them.

I have tried to accomodate my Stuff with more storage-type furnishings. But as soon as I do get (and fill up) a new dresser or bookshelf or jewelry case, then I start adding more stuff to be stored, and the newer furniture is immediately insufficient for the newest Stuff. And then there's the problem of keeping the stuff in the storage-furnishings, the tidy habits that I try to instill in myself: I have to actually put the clean clothes away as soon as I wash them, put the dirty clothes in the hamper when I take them off, put the books on shelves when I'm done reading them, put the jewels into the box when I'm done wearing them. I have found these habits rather difficult (dare I say impossible?) to keep up.

It has of course occurred to me that I would be better off with less Stuff. Do I really have to have all of the books I've ever read out where I can see them? Must I clutter my rare horizontal surfaces with the various objets d'art, souvenirs, and tchotchkes I have collected over the years? How many articles of clothing do I actually need?

This last query yanked me up short when I thought about it yesterday. I mean, one of the reasons I have so many clothes is that it's hard for me to figure out what to wear if I have too few choices. But then I've also become baffled by too many choices. And really, how many of each thing does a person need, even keeping in mind the necessity of variety?

Last night I wondered, since I am out of socks and underwear and undershirts, but I still have plenty of clean pants and shirts and sweaters, if perhaps I need to have more of the underneath-type clothes to be commensurate with the number of outer-crust-type clothes I own. On the other hand, it would also follow that maybe I need to have fewer outer-crust-type clothes so that I will run out of them at the same time I run out of underneath-type clothes. It suddenly occurred to me that it was possible to have a discrete number of articles of clothing, a numerically set wardrobe based on how I actually use my clothing.

So, exactly how many of the staples, socks and underpants and undershirts, do I actually need? Let's say thirty pairs of each, that way I'd be able to change them every day for a month before having to do laundry again (though I generally change every other day, since my bodily secretions are rather less than the average Joe's, and my skin and hair dry up if I bathe daily... so staples would last two months, or I'd need fewer pairs of each).

And then if I could get into a habit of putting them in the hamper when I was done with them, since these are things that I only wear twice, I could cut down on the mess a good deal. That's a big "if," but worth a try.

So with "staples" separated from "fashions," there is a sort of order established: it's a new concept for me to think of different kinds of clothes differently based on the different ways I use them. My "fashion" clothes, my pants and sweaters and what-have-you, are often worn more than once or twice... in fact I wear them until they become unwearably wrinkled or smelly. I often wear the same pair of pants for a week at a time, or rotate between three pairs over the course of a month, until they become stretched or stained.

On the other hand, I like to wear a different top every day; and unless I spill something on it, I can wear a sweater or overshirt three or four or even five times before the wrinkles or smells set in; but once worn, I don't want to put it back with the unworn clothes. What I usually do is hang these articles off the back of a chair or a doorhook or some other convenient protruberation. Then they fall on the floor, or pile up to extraordinary height, and contribute mightily to the overall messiness.

So to cure the messiness, two solutions present themselves: either set up a system by which worn-once-or-twice-but-yet-not-dirty clothes would have a place to be, separate from clean unworn clothes and from dirty worn clothes, instead of hanging off of things here and there; or else radically reduce the number of multi-wear clothing articles and rotate them more frequently. Say, have only fifteen of each and wash the whole lot every forty-five days. The first solution requires me to take on new habits (which I am discovering is bloody unlikely), the second to get rid of a large portion of my Stuff (which would be excruciatingly painful).

Furthermore, to remain within the concept of a discrete number of articles of clothing, I would have to get rid of a piece of clothing for every new piece of clothing I bring in, or else only allow myself to buy a new article of clothing when and if an old article becomes unwearable. Neither of these shopping-restrictive ideas sounds like fun.

But to return to the whole acceptance-and-change theme (remember the first paragraph? I barely do), it comes down to the courage to change what I can change, and the wisdom to know whether or not it is changeable.

For example, when I quit drinking, I had to accept my nature as an alcoholic but change my behavior as a drunk. I could not change my alcoholism, it is an inescapable fact, a peculiar arrangement of nature and nurture and my own past actions, over which I could exercise no current or future control; I could, however, with the help of other alcoholics and faith in a higher power and the performance of the twelve steps, stop drinking. I accepted the thing I couldn't change, and then changed the things I could. The same concept applies to the other problems in my life.

I have reasonable proof that I am not going to change certain things about myself... I mean, it's fairly clear to even the meanest of intellects that I am incapable of putting dirty clothes in a hamper with any kind of regularity. And following the evidence of my hampered hampering-abilities, one can discard the abovementioned worn-but-not-dirty system as being too difficult to maintain. Therefore, logic dictates that the thing that has to change is the sheer mass of the clothes themselves. Rather than trying to force myself to become a tidy person, I have to curb my shopping impulses; since I apparently can't change my slovenly nature, I have to address my Stuff-addicted behavior instead.

I embrace the pig, and to do so I must dismiss the shopper.

On a previous occasion in this diary I pondered the idea that a good one-shot system, some setup that would require a little bit of labor to create and very little labor to maintain, would be the ideal solution for the problem of my room. And now, months later, I have discovered a possible system:

Let's assume a sixty-day wash cycle. If I wear a pair of socks, a pair of underwear, and an undershirt two days in a row, I will need thirty of each. If I wear a shirt or sweater three times, I will need twenty of each. And if I wear each pair of pants five times, I will need twelve pair. That's pretty straightforward and simple.

Then there's outerwear: I need a raincoat, an overcoat, a parka, and a windbreaker; I have all of those, without duplicates, but could use an extra light jacket for variety. And perhaps it would be wise to maintain a small supply of extra-weather garments, like heavy wool sweaters and zephyr-light golf shirts (stored at the top of the closet) for those few days of the year when the weather becomes really inclement... maybe five of each.

That's just my everyday clothes. For gym clothes, I can usually wear a t-shirt twice and shorts or sweatpants five or six times, so assuming I go five times a week, I should have sixteen tops and eight bottoms. I won't address suits and slacks and dress-shirts, I so seldom wear them that they aren't worth bothering with. And I will not worry myself with shoes, today's shoe-fashions are so ugly that I am not likely to overbuy, and they don't take up that much space, and they are very useful to build barricades preventing Grandmother's wandering in and poking around.

So a solution presents itself. A goal around which I can focus my energies, sorting out the clothes I really like and finding a proper place for them, choosing a specific number instead of judging the individual usefulness of each item (and all of my items are useful... if I didn't like them at all, I wouldn't have bought them). It will be hard to get rid of the rest, but not as hard as it has been to live with all this stuff in my room.

And I'm pretty sure I don't have thirty pairs of underwear or socks, nor thirty undershirts, so there is some shopping required for this system to work... and it's not the buying of new things that has to stop, but rather the accumulation of things... I can buy anything I want, so long as I get rid of something else at the same time.

The tidy among my readers, those people who routinely clear out their closets and give away old clothes, will probably wonder why it took me so long to come to this rather obvious conclusion. All I can say is, it takes some of us longer to come to the same conclusions that other people reached years ago. First-century Greeks knew that the earth was spherical some fifteen hundred years before Columbus convinced Queen Isabella of the fact (if he did, which one doubts) -- Ptolemy of Alexandria proved that there were 365.25 days is a solar year a millenium or so before Pope Gregory II solved the quarter-day calendar problem with Leap Year. It was well over a year ago that Luiz Fernando suggested I investigate Space Clearing (Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui) to solve my clutter problem, and I'm just now getting around to simply admitting that getting rid of stuff might be the solution to my difficulty.

And after I solve the problem of my wardrobe, I might be able to tackle to problems of my books (do I change the desire to have them where I can see them, or change the habit of keeping them at all?), my tchotchkes (should I change the place that I keep them or change the fact that I keep them?), and/or my love-life (should I change my lack of a boyfriend, or change my desire for a boyfriend?), et cetera, ad infinitum.

Anyway, thank you for indulging me as I work all this out in print. Love you!

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