With the new year upon us I've noticed quite a few blog posts full of tips and advice on organizing and decluttering. I've often wished I had more structured organization in my life but it just doesn't seem to be my natural mode. But with so many new projects on the go and my new book, The Natural Eclectic, about to launch, I have felt an urgent need to pare things down so I can focus and prepare for what lies ahead.
Recently I had the pleasure of sharing high tea with a new friend Cindy Yu. As we chatted about everything from the intricacies of life, love and loss, to our simple shared love of knitting, I pointed out that the word 'distilled' resonates strongly with me at the moment. She wrote a touching post about our Sunday musings together on her blog The Vancouverite.
2015 was both a tumultuous and a triumphant year for me. I was in survival mode with looming deadlines, working on a dream-of-a-lifetime project under difficult personal circumstances.
We had an earthquake in Vancouver just after Christmas. It was quite a jolt, then a rattle...it was a scare and a wake up call, yet not enough to cause permanent harm. In those few seconds, where did our minds go, what or whom did we think of? What really mattered? I had a whole year like that! I had to deeply root myself down and let superfluous things fall by the wayside.
This is not to say the to say the little things didn't matter. I immersed myself in the small magic of the natural world. I got out into the fog induced frost over Christmas so entranced I felt almost frostbitten on return. I wrote words in the frost, knowing my message might melt before being seen, and then I painted about it. Each day I observe the little resident hummingbird that has graced my garden. It's as if he provides a guided meditation as I savour my morning tea, and his appearance never fails to bring me back to the moment and fill me with delight.
detail "Frostbitten in the snow" Heather Ross 2016
So what does any of this have to do with decluttering??? In order to clear the clutter in our lives we need to clear the clutter in our minds. Some people are naturally drawn to the act of cleaning and tidying... the very process of this external act helps them internally. I'm not one of those people. For me, I have to get bored (which rarely happens) or extremely overwhelmed (which happens way more often than boredom) before all of a sudden I can look around, clear my distractions and go, OK let's get down to business and clear the decks!
In the process of moving forward from a roller coaster of a year I finally took some time off in January. I gave myself permission to do nothing. Then I started to paint. I slept a lot, and read. And finally, in between reading and sleeping and painting I slowly began to tidying and bringing balance in my home.
During my hiatus I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It's on creative living without fear.
People often describe me as fearless but it is not really so. I'm often filled with fear and doubt, yet I am proud to say that I have the courage to push forward in the face of these fears. That said, I've never really felt fear or angst attached to my creative process in the way that artists are typically portrayed. So I wasn't sure the theme of the book was well suited to me.
That same week my publisher called and completely surprised me by saying "Heather I have an advance copy of your book for you. I can bring it by in about 10 minutes." I'm so glad I read Gilbert's book with an open mind because when that call came, an internal voice said "whhhaaaaaaaaaaaatttt?" and indeed fluctuating emotions distilled into primal feelings and yes, there was fear! Lot's of it!
I was not expecting my book to arrive for another two months so I was completely caught off guard. Especially by very atypical feelings of avoidance like 'I'm just not ready to see this yet'. I could see the perfectionism in me rising, worrying whether certain aspects of the production of the book such as the binding, the end papers, the color correctness of the printing might not meet my own exacting standards. All these fears were rising despite our unbelievable attention to detail and working with the BEST book designer ever!
How would all my choices finally look together as a three-dimensional object with pages unfolding as opposed to how it all looked on the computer screen for over a year? Producing the book material was counter intuitive to me because the structure and timeline happened in the inverse order of how I typically work, requiring me to first write the words, then select my images, and then finally agree on design and layout. I had a lifetime of experiences and ideas plus 30,000 photos which I had to edit and distill into 216 pages. So when that call came and the actual copy was on route to me, in some sense it's as if my brain did not quite feel in an organized enough state of mind required to receive the book.
I was running the shop that day, it was pouring rain, I had a headache and I felt frazzled. This was not how I imagined meeting my book for the first time! Anticipation, expectations and attachments were mixed with insecurities, doubts and second-guessing. Yet I also recognized a shift in me - I could recognize and identify that these feelings were not serving me well. They were not bringing me joy, they were getting in my way. And so I did something very out of character. I avoided opening the package. And I waited. I got grounded. I cleared away the apprehension and the clutter of my thoughts.
By evening time I was ready to reveal the book. First, I enjoyed feeling the weight of it. Then the texture of the smooth satin finish, the shape. The weight of all my dreams. Before I could open it though I had to take some of this weight away. I had to take away preconceived notions of what it would be. I had to open my mind to receive it as a new whole thing.
A woman was in my shop when the book arrived and gave some sage advice: 'look at it as if it's your best friends first book.' I realized I had to let go of my attachments as well as my desire to control the outcome of the book or how it would be perceived. And so I surrendered. I opened a fortune cookie to celebrate my private moment of meeting my book. It said 'a thing of beauty shall bring you great joy.'
Then I opened my book. Indeed! I actually gasped when I saw the opening end pages. They were a last minute change for which I had seen no proofs, so the apprehension was high. It was a leap of faith that turned out so beautifully.
Upon clearing the clutter of thoughts that were getting in my way, I found a desire to get my home and life uncluttered as well. So here's to a year that's pure and healing. Distilled into the meaningful.
One of my favorite pages is this one below, both the image and the message.'Elegance...is seductive in it's simplicity and carefully distilled.'
Oh and by the way, I LOVE my book. I hope it will bring others joy too and I can't wait to share it
All images copyright Heather Ross