I don’t have the mad maker skillz of my son or my husband – they rummage around in their seemingly endless collections of stuff and find exactly what they need for fixing or creating their latest project. It’s much easier for me to throw than to save and I have never really attached to much stuff. I have a small box of assorted special things that I rarely add to and periodically purge. On a couple recent occasions I have actually gone looking for something in that box and found exactly what I needed. I like to think I’ve done a pretty good job of curating the box.
David and I have moved 11 times in 18 years and so we pretty regularly see all our stuff and make decisions of worth. Twenty months ago we moved from a 3500 square foot home in Alaska to a 1000 square foot apartment in Oregon. Thirteen months later we moved back to Alaska. The stuff that made it into the boxes for the trip back to Alaska is a pretty good reflection of who we are and what we are about.
But it’s a bit awkward to live on the 3rd floor in an apartment building with no garage or yard when you’re a maker or a gardener. Tools are scattered throughout our house and potatoes and spinach grow in the small room just off the kitchen. We have skis and bikes and boots and books. Because recent Anchorage winters have been more ice than snow, and we anticipate this to be a defining trend, we made a pre-emptive strike this summer and bought fat tire bikes which we can ride through the long days of summer and onto the coming winter snow and ice. I am grateful for the elevator that lifts my bike and me to our 3rd floor apartment but where to store four fat-tire bikes once we get up here?!? As they say, makers gonna make. David pulled out his computer and designed a frame to hold the bikes in tidy fashion along a wall just inside our entry.
Then we went on vacation before the design transformed to physical reality and I stayed away longer than David did. So I was sitting in Oregon summer sunshine visiting with a friend one afternoon a couple weeks ago when a text pinged my phone. I tapped and zoomed to see from several angles, four fat tire bikes hanging neatly inside our front door. David had completed the rack and the result looked great. I was eager to get home to see. A few days later I walked through the door and found the bikes hanging in our dining room, just as I expected.
Dining room is a bit of a misnomer. We do not sit around a table formally set with dishes, napkins, and silverware, passing bowls of steaming food. Instead the four of us manage our various dietary needs and inclinations by wandering through the kitchen at meal times, creating and collecting whatever we will eat, and then landing at the table in the “dining room” where we shove aside books, mail, newspapers, and homework. Headlines from these paper piles often fuel our conversation as we eat. It’s nearly always a casual affair to sit and eat dinner in our dining room. But, it turns out, I don’t like looking at muddy bikes while I eat.
There are so many philosophies, strategies, styles for managing the stuff of life. Books have been written. Workshops presented. I haven’t spent much time studying any of that, unless you count paying attention to the journey. I’ve learned along this way that there is not magic. I cannot buy a system or overlay a philosophy that clears the clutter and creates a healthy space for me to live and breathe. I’ve tried a little bit over the years. One time we bought not one, but two elaborate shelving units from Costco in order to sort the legos and playmobil into our very own orderly toy warehouse. It was fabulously efficient during creation phases, but much too laborious in the clean-up and re-sort. We’ve bought varieties of organization systems from Pottery Barn, but of course we never managed to make our house match pictures in a catalog.
So now, as we worked to solve my muddy dinner view, we simply looked at what we already owned and started moving it around. The boys and I pulled out an old whiteboard and scrawled out a list of our family activities while we talked about the qualities of space needed for each. The whiteboard reflects our activities, interests, and hopes. We imagine and dream. We review and evaluate. Books, legos, board games, art, homework, cooking, skis, garden, computer, building, crafting, tv, music, bikes…..our tools, our products, our possibilities. In our pursuits we engage and shape our space. To that end, we moved bookcases and couches. We reordered books and rehung pictures. Each adjustment disrupted existing arrangements and patterns in this evolution of relationship to our stuff and our space. The room with the bikes is now wide open. Tools and crafting materials congregate there with greater intentionality and purpose. David and Ryan hope to build a kayak in that room during the coming dark days of winter. To block the muddy view we moved the dining table to the other side of the wall, into the room where my office has been. The dining table became my desk.
When I slide my chair up to the end of the dining room table and perch my laptop there, I can still look out the windows to see the routines and mysteries of city life and also across a great expanse of water to a distant, rugged mountain range. Close in, David rehung my whiteboards in the little cubby at my left elbow and I moved a newly curated bookcase into that space, along with a lamp that I actually switch on as our long summer light gives way to the accumulating dark of fall.
It turns out that this reordering of my physical space coincides with the sifting and sorting I’ve been doing in my digital space. It has been more than a decade since a car accident abruptly changed my life and set me onto a complex recovery path. Along the way I’ve blogged and journaled and emailed about my experiences and insights. I’ve typed entries into a variety of software applications and scratched them in notebooks. It’s all a disorganized mess of stuff. I also have 10 years of WaterAfrica files saved across hard drives, thumb drives, and in the clouds. When I resigned from my design communication work with WaterAfrica this past spring I also decided I wouldn’t take on any more new clients, and so I have been working to clear client projects and files out of my digital working space. In this increasingly open space, I find myself reviewing and reflecting on what still stands. I have been collecting and ordering the scattered scraps of my writing into a chronological pathway back through time and have discovered that it is sort of like the whiteboard list the boys and I made. As I read these stories of grief and loss and beauty and fear and hope and anger and courage and doubt, I recognize myself in this trail of words. These are my tools, my products, my possibilities. I’m gonna rummage around and nurture some mad maker skillz.