Friday, February 11, 2011

Fear of Forgetting

Yesterday I wrote about clutter, about de-cluttering my physical space and mental space. I agreed to clear four piles from my computer workspace last evening. Here's what happened.

First, and not unexpectedly, I found that I could get a dozen or so things checked off my to-do list, even things that have been on it for a long time, in order to avoid the piles of clutter. Big avoidance. In the past I would have baked cookies or apple crisp or a delicious pie first and felt entitled to eat myself silly prior to starting the de-clutter job. How could de-cluttering be so odious and why???? With pie and cookies off the option list and all the doable to-do things done, by midnight last night there was nothing for it but to begin with the first pile.

Resistance. What is behind the resistance? As I was working with that first pile, I noticed myself getting somewhat anxious (fearful) about tossing things. Here's a partial list of some of the things I was reluctant to toss:

-- business cards, especially artists from whom I've bought things
-- the original copy of a poem I wrote
-- several greeting cards from acquaintances or customers
-- magazine articles
-- invoices from long ago purchases
-- a picture given to me by my husband
-- several poems (not by me)
-- several small gifts from blogging friends
-- maps and brochures from places I've been

Well, there were other things, but this list is somewhat representative. Gifts and cards were the most difficult. Truth be told, I still have almost all of them. Why? Yes they mean something to me as symbols of the fondness people have for me. But why do I need the symbols? I know these people care.

I think I know what it is. I think it's fear of forgetting... forgetting the person, none of whom (except my husband) are in my immediate circle of friends, some of whom I've never met... forgetting who sold me something I might want to buy again... forgetting where I filed the typed version of a poem I wrote... forgetting the information I learned from an article in a magazine... forgetting poems I read a few times and liked.

My mother has dementia, rather seriously, which began when she was about my age. She covered it well for many years, but as she reached her 80s, it became more and more obvious as she'd grope for words, make up stories and flat out admit that she could not recall. I've noticed a slow progression in that direction in myself as well, starting when I was about 50, when I became increasingly unable to recall dates, times, numbers.

I don't want to forget about the people in my life. And there have been a lavish of them as I've traveled all over the country to teach and developed many precious and lasting but distant friendships with students and other artists. Then there are blog friends, hundreds of beaders, quilters and other types of artists with whom I've shared so much. I don't want to forget any of them. I don't WANT to forget anything. Yet it happens every day.

Perhaps my reluctance to deal with the piles has something to do with fear of forgetting some of these people and things. If I clear the clutter by filing these reminders in boxes in the attic, they'll be as good as forgotten, for I know I'll never look in the boxes again. I know this because there are already boxes like that in the attic. They came when I moved here 13 years ago and have never been opened. Therefore, my choice seems to be: either throw away these things or leave them in piles of clutter in my living space.

Either way, my fear is reality based. Alas, I will forget some of them whether or not I keep the physical reminders.

After two hours, the four stacks of stuff around my computer was reduced to one small pile. Many things were tossed or put in recycle. A few things got moved to existing piles in other rooms for attention later. It feels great to sit here typing at my computer with empty counter space and the chair nearby which is no longer a "shelf" holding a 2 ft. pile of papers.

I didn't do any more de-cluttering today in the physical world. But this post will help me in the future, let's say tomorrow as I attack the clutter on and under the kitchen table.

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Today's gratitude: wool sweaters, chickens, good neighbors, doing home improvement projects with my husband


  1. What is so interesting for me as I read this is to think about my husband. It was often a bone of contention for us - my need for no clutter; his resistance to declutter. I used to provide him with lots of "tools" to try to help. Bins and files and cabinet space. I used to tell him if he knew how the clutter made me feel he'd work on it. (And it really does cause a reaction in my body.) He used to say if I knew how hard it was for him I wouldn't ask. Your post is giving me a bit more understanding.

    letters...books.... For me, its that feeling of it I toss is final...if I store it in a box or tuck it away in a bag for a day or two..or is just out of sight out of mind but not gone forever....

  3. Greeting cards used to be my hardest thing to get rid of. Some of them are so beautiful in themselves. Now I enjoy them for a month in the "card display area" and then either put them in "craft paper" to recycle, or just bless the person who sent it and toss 'em out.

    This is good deep work you're doing, Robin.

  4. My grandmother is suffering from Alzheimers disease... My family has come up with an elegant and simple solution: they buy her a pocket diary (agenda?)and everyone who visit her writes down that they have done so. Now, whenever anyone asks about something, the first thing she does is reach out for her diary and look it up. It helps her recollect recent events so she can stay in touch!
    Maybe you can use your scraps and cards for a visual artsy journal. You keep yourself from forgetting and are doing a fun thing at the same time!
    (BTW: I always start cleaning and de-cluttering whenever I feel bad. It helps me get rid of my anger an frustations at times.)

  5. Maybe you could treat yourself to a look through some of those old boxes. I love doing that, rediscovering things and people I haven't thought about in a long time. It always makes me smile.

  6. This is going to help me to declutter. I soooooooooo appreciate your honesty. Thank you so much!

  7. clutter is a big issue for me. But then there are the special mementos. I have a journal I wrote in during colllege. I began to keep fairly regular journals in the late 80's ( when I started in Therapy and OA initially.)I have weight loss / diet journals that go back many years. I know as a teenager and as a child I wrote things in diarys but I can't find them.

    Occasionally, I go back and read a journal and whole neighborhoods of memories come back. I'd forgotten this incident or that person and suddenly it would come back. It's like putting a slide in a microscope and suddenly you can see something that just looked like a blob before.

    Oh , if I could recapture the pieces of my past that I worry and wonder about.

    Maybe keeping some things can be important, but if we don't have time to go back and visit with the really good stuff we would totally forget it. For me it's about learning to get rid of the day to day junk..copies of bills/ grocery lists/receipts/ magazines . Keep the treasures and revisit your past-the card or note from a special friend or family or a program flyer that you enjoyed or a poem that meant something to you.

  8. You know... I finally figured out WHY I conveniently "forgot" this post, avoided it, and didn't comment.

    It touched a nerve too deeply... one I didn't want to acknowledge, for fear of giving "life" to it.

    I watched my sister go through years of struggle, and almost lose herself... the person that was there for years didn't resemble my sister. But now, after years of healing, she is back. Older, wiser, more compassionate for others going thru pain, and learning to claim her place in this world... to BE herself.. to embrace all of herself, the good, the creative, the parts that still need healing and the parts she is working to... how to say it... emerge, like from a caterpillar to a butterfly.

    I've learned much from her, painful as it was. Thank you for being so vulnerable in this post... it opened up some things for me. To lose ones "self", ones memories, ones mind... is the most terrifying thing to me. And I can admit those feelings now, and it's okay.



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