Sunday, May 3, 2015

Planning, Packing and Paring Down: Does It Spark Joy?

I leave on my round-the-world trip one month from today (though it really begins in just 2-½ weeks with my drive to Iowa to drop off my dog Jack at “summer camp.”) I am excited, yes, but I am also bogged down in planning and packing. And neither of those things are the most enjoyable part of the journey to me. Alas, they are part of the journey. And I know that taking the time to prepare and pack right (as in light) will make the journey a better one.

As for planning part, there are a zillion details to work out. Not just the flights and the visas, or the global cell phone calling plan and credit card with no foreign transaction fee, buying an international plug adapter and getting World Piece business cards made. I have added a big fat layer of complexity by adding pie-making classes to the mix. So in addition to all the other stuff I also have to figure out how to get supplies and ingredients for pie classes in 10 different countries.

In spite of having a white board and a 3-ring binder and scratching things off my To-Do list daily, managing the minutiae is still an exercise in stress management. I just keep reminding myself to practice what I preach: “Pie is not about perfection. Pie is about improvising. Pie makes people happy.” I will have time to find the ingredients and supplies when I get there. I will get the rest of the class details ironed out when I hit the ground.

I will be fine. I will be fine. I will be fine.

As for the packing part, I thought I could handle this one without the usual mental wrestling match required in determining what to take and what to leave behind. But packing has its own added layer of complexity. I am moving out of my guesthouse in LA and I want to consolidate my belongings — kind of like “getting your affairs in order.” Not that I think I’m going to die out there on my trip. Nothing that morbid. I just want the peace of mind of knowing all my stuff is in one place.

I have too much to cart back to Iowa in my MINI Cooper. (I traveled out here in the RV, remember? And I had it fully packed.) I can’t store anything in the RV as I had originally planned because my brother is going to use it this summer. (Yes, The Beast is still alive and well! Thanks for asking.) Besides, keeping my stuff in the RV means having stuff in two different parts of the country.

So…I’m trying to pare down. Again. (It seems this is a constant battle as I took at least 10 trips to Goodwill when I moved out of the American Gothic House in September.)

As I tackled my closet and drawers today, trying to sort what to pack, what to take with me to Iowa (to my storage unit there), and what to throw, it didn’t take long for the effort to end in exasperation—and swear words.

F**k this! I already have enough *&%#$* decisions to make!

Why do I always have to complicate things?! I promised myself I would make this journey as easy on myself as possible. Adding this “Must Pare Down” task to the already-long list is only adding pressure.

There’s more to the story though. (There always is, isn’t there?)

First, my mom took me shopping two weeks ago. She’s as excited about my trip as I am. To her thinking, a new adventure needs a new wardrobe. To my thinking, the ONLY thing I needed was a new purse. A big lightweight one with a strap long enough to carry it diagonally across my body (to keep it secure), and a zipper to make sure nothing falls out (and no stray hands go in.) We went to Marshalls to look for purses and I came out with 2 linen shirts, a dress, a crushable straw hat, a pair of linen pants, and 2 pair of sandals. And no purse. My mom was thrilled with my purchases. I loved the clothes, and they were very affordable, but I didn’t really want new stuff.

“Pare down” is kind of mantra to me, a way of life. I wanted to make do with what I already have. But it made my mom so happy to go shopping with me. And seeing her happy made me happy. It was her way of being part of my journey.

And even more symbolic, shopping with her was a touchstone to my past.

When I was 21, I had saved my money to go to Europe. I had never been there and I had the idea that I would go for a whole year, pick one place to start (by circling my finger on the map and seeing where it landed: Bern, Switzerland), and come back a changed and cosmopolitan young woman. Before I left, my mom took me shopping. (Remember her mantra: New adventures need new wardrobes.) She bought me a jean skirt, a dress, loose cotton pants, a cotton sweater. And a big lightweight purse with a long strap and a zipper closure. I can still picture it vividly. It was gray canvas, the strap was leather, and it had a mesh pocket on the outside. It was made by Esprit. I loved that purse and it had a long, adventurous life.

I had a safe and successful experience in Europe. I spent my 22nd birthday hiking in the Swiss Alps. I studied French in Neuchatel. I worked on a yacht in Cannes (and used that money to go to Thailand for three months.) I ate my way through Italy. I had an audience with the Pope. I skied on the Matterhorn. I shaved my head. I made friends. I came back to the US more grown up and cultured. (And happily my quasi-punk 80s hair do eventually grew out.)

I’ll never forget how my mom supported me and helped me prepare for that journey by taking me shopping.

Now, 30 years later, I am about to embark on another grand global adventure and it doesn't matter if I wanted or needed new clothes. What matters is that I still have my mom and she is still supporting me in my crazy dreams and far-flung travels. Which is why I kept my “pare down” mandate to myself — to eliminate belongings, not add them — and bought the clothes. They filled two shopping bags.

I am so grateful to have my mom. I am so grateful to have my mom. I am so grateful to have my mom.

The second thing that was complicating my packing ability is that I just read a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. Her theory is that by letting go of our excess belongings we live with less stress, process the past, and make room for new life. And that we should only keep things that “spark joy.”

By the author’s definition of paring down, I would be considered a hoarder.

In sorting and packing and weeding out today, I kept thinking of Kondo’s words. “With each item you touch ask yourself, ‘Does this spark joy?’” That’s a loaded question. Each and every item sparks a memory. Of a time. A place. A person. But does the item itself spark joy?

It’s a puzzling concept. So puzzling that instead of answering the question for each item I started making piles. Stuff to take with me around the world. Stuff to pack into my MINI to take to Iowa storage. Stuff to take to Goodwill. Stuff to give to friends or family. But the pile that became the biggest was Stuff I cannot f**king deal with right now. Maybe Kondo's "letting go of excess reduces stress" concept works after the fact, but the process to get there is not as easy as she makes it sound.

Most of the stuff in my undecided pile has something to do with Marcus. Does it spark joy to remember when he bought me that wool skirt in Venice, Italy? Or when he bought me those embroidered jeans in Venice, California? What about the scarf his mother knitted for me? And the gloves with the skull and crossbones logo of the Saint Pauli soccer team in Marcus’ birthplace of Bremen, Germany? What about those?????? Those things used to spark joy. Now they spark a combination of joy and searing heartache. What do I do with that stuff?

Kondo writes, “When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”

Ouch. And yet how fitting is that for my round-the-world trip? I say I’m going on this World Piece journey to make pie, to learn about other countries’ pie, and to promote cultural tolerance. But if you dig deeper and probe me with questions, like my friend Meg did over coffee a few days ago, this trip is about letting go of Marcus. And finding me. Finding a way to move forward. 

When I see the things I'm still hanging onto — the clothes especially, some of them Marcus's (I still have the red plaid bathrobe I wrote about in "Making Piece") — I cannot deny my attachment to the past.

I'm going to have to mull this over for a few more days before I can move things from the "Can't decide" pile to the "Goodwill" one. And if they end up in the "Iowa storage" pile, so what? It's my stuff, my memories, my joy, my grief, my timeline for when I'm ready to let go.

I also made a pile of stuff to return to Marshalls. I decided that the clothes I bought when I was with my mom are not the right clothes for me. When I tried on those linen pants today and saw how tight they were across my butt, that definitely did not spark joy. The linen blouses, loose and flowy and good for the tropics, that looked good in the dressing room — with my mother there cheering me on with her approval — now seemed too matronly. Matronly and joy are mutually exclusive. No spark there. But I’m keeping the sandals, because I’ve already worn them. They are like joyful little spark plugs for my feet, very comfortable for walking on any pavement anywhere in the world. And I’m keeping the dress, partly because my mom paid for it. “It’s an early birthday present,” she had insisted. I do love it. It’s a great color for me (dark khaki green), it’s lightweight, it doesn’t wrinkle, and it covers my arms and knees (meaning I will have the respectful attire required when visiting certain places.) I know I will wear it a lot.

I also know that no matter what I pack, what I leave behind, what I give away — and what I  plan (or don’t get planned) for the pie classes — I will be fine. I just need to keep my load light. On this trip, I will carry more strength and grace, and less grief. I will find myself again. The spirit of my 22-year-old self still lives in me somewhere. Hopefully, I will just have a hell of a lot of fun. I have nothing to worry about because making and sharing pie is always fun.

Let the journey begin.



RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE WEBSITE

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