Pain of parting

Shoes in a shop


I’m going through a painful process as I sort and thin possessions. Yes. I am parting with some of my shoes. Imagine mournful music playing at this point.

A love of shoes is a common weakness for women. Maybe for some men, but I’ll confine myself to generalizations and stereotypes of my own gender here. I am definitely not alone in this. Visit any shoe store and the selection for women is much larger than for men. I feel very proud of myself if I only choose three or four pairs of shoes when I pack for a weekend. I’ve known some women to need a whole suitcase for shoes for a week. I quickly say to myself, “I’m not that bad!” But of course these things are all relative. My husband can’t understand why I might need multiple pairs of black shoes for a trip. But while the color may be the same, the style is different. Who would put black heels with an outfit that needs black flats?! But he never really gets these subtleties.

What I really struggle with is giving up favorite pairs of shoes. I used to love Pappagallo shoes, and had a quite a collection in my closet. Then I lost my source for buying that brand. But although I bought the last pair in the early 90s (can’t believe my son was in 1st grade at the time, that really puts this in perspective for me) I’ve never been able to give up any of them. Not that I still wear them. No, they’re dated enough that I would feel strange about that. But they’re Pappagallos! And because I have kept my shoes in their original boxes and I’m careful to wipe down and polish, even shoes from that era still look almost new. But really, I’m not stocking items for a museum. And if I’m not going to dress in vintage clothing, why am I still hauling them around?

So, I have a multi-step plan. First I pull out anything that is even remotely questionable. I can part with two pairs using this filter. Then I look again and try to determine if there are classic styles that I haven’t been wearing that I really would put back into use. You know, sometimes you just transition to newer items because they are new, not because the older things are out of style or too worn. So I determine that another two or three pairs of low heeled pumps really are wearable, and looking at online shoes stores, could have been purchased yesterday. So I was right all along about classic styles…they really do last, or come back into fashion!

So that leaves me with a dozen or so pairs of shoes that I am struggling to give up. I know, realistically, they won’t be coming back to my clothing rotation. I did get a lot of use from them at the time. Now I just have to steel myself and let go. I look at the colors and the lines of the shoes, I remember times I wore them or outfits I paired them with. Something that seemed like a routine chore is surprisingly poignant, because suddenly this is not about getting rid of old shoes at all. I’m walking through an era of my life when I was in my early 30s and I had young children. I had a different life. Rob and I were the young parents. We had a lot before us.

Now I am a grandmother of an almost-one-year-old, and I have a lot of old shoes. I have new ones too. My life hasn’t stood still. And if I have a few moments of nostalgia for the past, I can shake it off and remind myself that today is good too. But it’s funny to me how out of the blue, in a stab of realization, these gains and losses are defined all over again, and by unexpected catalysts. Who would have thought cleaning out my shoes would take me to 1st grade, or soccer games, or the office I worked in at the time? Or the trip Rob and I made to New York? Or a house I once loved?

One of my favorite quotes says, “You’re never safe from surprise till you’re dead!” Well, sitting in the middle of my closet floor, surrounded by the past, cleverly disguised as shoes, I experience surprise at how sharp and sweet the memories are. But I look again and realize that I am keeping the memories, the really sweet stuff. It’s the shoes I’m cleaning out. My heart will still be able to go back and visit those times, at moments that I choose, or need to. The scenes in my mind are still there, tucked away. But I can let go of the shoes. That’s not where I live; they’ve outstayed their welcome, and it’s time to send them on their way.


pink laundry detergent

Ok, please tell me why a freshly pressed light-colored pair of pants is a magnet for spots? I’m not usually messy…I don’t spill a lot, don’t have a hole in my lip. But I know when I left the house this morning I was wearing clean clothes. Now, late in the day, I look down and see I’ve acquired a few things along the way. And it’s not such a big deal to go home and treat a few spots and throw laundry in for a spin. But how long have I had these spots? Were they with me as I went through a day of meetings? You know, I really try to project a professional image. Is there a conspiracy? Must I wear leftovers through my afternoon? And why do I notice at the end of the day? At least if I had noticed the drip when it happened, I could have attempted a fix. Now, at 4:30, there’s no point. My spots have been on display, front and center.

The only thing I can hope is that everyone else was pre-occupied with their own spots.

If all of this sounds silly, just wait until you realize that instead of displaying a confident and polished self, you were wearing your best middle-school look. Really, the only comfort with these little flashes of insecurity…you know, an unzipped fly, or socks that don’t match (I don’t know how that happened) or bad hair days….is the realization that no one escapes. We’re all seventh graders at one time or another, even after we’ve long outgrown the age.

Well, off to buy some stain remover. And tomorrow, I hope to move up a grade or two.


Yellow daffodils - floriade canberra

It’s mid-March, and with the time change, the light lingers into the evening. It’s 7:00 pm and I can still look out and see the Tongass Narrows outside my window. Nice to welcome the softer seasons back after a snowier-than-usual stretch.

And with the return of spring months and lengthening days come other signs of rebirth. There are daffodils pushing up through the soil in the flower bed outside my house. The spring clothing catalogs have made their appearance in my mailbox. I’m beginning to think about Easter presents to send my kids. I look at dates to fly down to Arizona to celebrate Riley’s first birthday in late April. And I begin to think of summer plans. All good, all reward for getting through the winter months once more.

I love seasons. I love the change of mood that each season brings. Spring is about awakening. Summer is inherently a more relaxed time. Is that programmed into the American psyche from all the years of the school/summer cycle? First by your own school schedule as a child, then for anyone who has children, by their years in that rhythm. But even beyond the calendar, there is something about the long days that demands a slower pace and a celebration of all things summer: beaches, picnics, road trips, ball games, fireworks, watermelon and burgers.

Fall is the first season of “new year” to me. I always think there should be two re-sets of the year. Also tied to the academic calendar, September (or now August, as classes begin earlier each year) is the beginning of another school year, for so long a way of defining and staging each person: “What grade are you in this year?” And the excitement of fall harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving…each event is a beloved marker of family and communal sharing that punctuates the months.

The peak of the year for many people, “the holidays,” is both the best and the worst of the annual cycle. I am better than I once was at enjoying the people and not stressing so much about the events. It is a magical time: for children waiting for gifts; for adults, touched by reminders of what is real and good in life. And when the real new year comes, we each have the chance, once more, to reset ourselves by the calendar. To resolve again to be “good,” however we define that for ourselves: diet, money, exercise, goals…it’s going to be different this year!

So, springtime, the second season, is upon us. I look at my spring decor, knicknacks that I am sorting through as I box things in my basement. I have a collection of blown Easter eggs that my kids and I made over the years. I have ceramic bunnies and an egg tree, an assortment of spring wreaths and linens that I’ll pull out for an Easter lunch. The brighter colors and lighter fabrics imitate the outdoors on sunny days, and remind me that many things in life are worth waiting for. Spring is one of them. Then summer. Then fall. Then winter. It’s all good, and fortunately, just as we’re weary of one, the next arrives, in perfect timing. Just as we need the next cycle to begin, it does.

How to declutter in easy steps

Decluttering is easy if you do a few things first:

Move to an island, then decide to move away, and get a moving estimate for crating all of your stuff away. (This only works if you are paying for the move yourself: if your moving costs will be paid by your employer, this will not be effective.)  The packing/shipping estimate will motivate you to be ruthless in cleaning out.

Second, even if you think you have decluttered regularly, take a hard look at things you may be keeping for the wrong reasons…guilt (I can’t get rid of kid memorabilia), sentiment, (grandparent cards, a special dress from 20 years ago), indecision (do I like this or don’t I?)…you get the picture.

I also use one of my husband’s strategies: he goes through a box of books (or whatever) and tries to thin out a small percentage. Later he goes through the same box and tries to thin the contents a bit more. I think he usually does this at least three times, using the theory that it is easier to get rid of a small amount of stuff multiple times, rather than a larger amount all at once. Ok, it works for him. That’s one of the keys to decluttering: you have to find what works for you.

Next, decide what items are worth selling and what should be donated. I’m no garage sale expert, but I’ve heard people say that clothing doesn’t move well in garage sales. If you have appliances, tools, furniture, or other big items to dispose of,  you can probably sell them. The other benefit is that you don’t have to haul large items away if someone comes to buy them from your house. And if you donate clothing, books, etc., be sure that your donations are clean and in a good condition to give away. Don’t unload your trash on local charities.

Don’t try to do this as a marathon event. In my experience, you can only make so many decisions before either a) deciding to keep too much or b) deciding to get rid of too much. To keep your objectivity as you sort, limit the amount of time you spend on this task at one stretch. This means you will need to begin the process well in advance of your moving date. I also find that I need morning energy to tackle my decluttering. Find the time of day that works best for you.

Finally, be ruthless! If you don’t love it, need it, use it, let it go. You may be shocked at how freeing this experience is, and how it helps you to think about stuff. Believe me – I moved to an island, and decided to move away.

Story People

I love this:

I read once that the ancient Egyptians had fiftty words for sand & the Eskimos had a hundred words for snow. I wish I had a thousand words for love, but all that comes to mind is the way you move against me while you sleep & there are no words for that.                       Brian Andreas, Trusting Soul

Do you know this artist and poet? I first saw his work several years ago and was charmed by his words. Some are profound, others funny. And there are some pieces that I don’t get at all. But the ones that resonate…they’re magic.

Here’s another one:

I finally got to exactly where I wanted to be, she said, so why won’t all these growth experiences go away & leave me alone?

Or this one:

I’m not that good at being a tourist because I’m always looking at the way the light shines in your hair or the way your dress opens to the wind & my favorite places in the world are places filled with you.

Another personal favorite:

I’m feeling overdressed, she said & he held her close & said as far as he was concerned she was always that way & her eyes glowed softly in the light of his desire

I have seen him in Hawaiian shirts she said, so there is nothing hidden between us

Rob sometimes wears Hawaiian shirts (only beautiful and tasteful, of course! But I say this last bit to him anyway).

And a final excerpt:

There are things you do because they feel right & they make no sense & they make no money & it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other & to eat each other’s cooking & say it was good.

All of these quotes are from the same book, Trusting Soul. But there are many books and pieces of art, frameable, 3-D, etc., available. Get your own, read the whole thing, see if you’re charmed. Check out the website:

Troubled waters

“We are sometimes taken into troubled waters not to drown, but to be cleansed.” 

I love this…troubled waters, turblent waters…sounds frightening and very negative. Can’t still waters cleanse also? Still waters are calming, soothing, healing. The image of turbulent waters brings to mind pounding surf or stormy seas. Nothing reassuring in that. The natural instinct is to shelter from storms.

As I was thinking of the difference in still and troubled waters, and the value of troubled waters to life, I thought of the agitator in washing machines. Newer models don’t have agitators, but for decades this was a standard part of the machinery. The agitator helped with the cleasnsing process. You could argue that the movement is harsh for delicate fabrics, and the same can be said of lives. Fragile lives, delicate situations, can be damaged by turbulent waters, and the results are not guaranteed. But nothing in life is guaranteed.

Maybe  it is more valuable to come out of the water cleansed rather than wholly intact. Everyone gets a bit frayed around the edges with time, just as well-worn fabrics do. Perhaps the process is essential and worth the time of fear and uncertainty. But you have to come through the waters to know the outcome. I would add, when you’re in troubled waters, look for lifelines to hold to. And have faith in the process.