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Signs of summer – a souvenir from travel in England

One of the most accurate road signs you will ever see.

One of the most accurate road signs you will ever see.

I’m back from three weeks in the U.K., much of it spent in rural Wales.

Puffins! Badgers! Foxes! English breakfasts! And, of course, exotic signs. My favorite is this one, which, as far as I know is announcing a change from one-way to two-way traffic outside the tiny Cotswolds village of Minster Lovell.

Changed priorities ahead? Aren’t there always?

My current priorities are reading in the lounge chair on the back deck, and eating as many fresh berries as I can manage.

It’s inevitable that they’ll change, but who knows what they’ll change to? Right now I don’t think they’ll be the same ones I left behind when I got on the plane. But that could just be summer talking.

Co-incidentally, when I opened my email, there was a note from the library saying that a book I had reserved had come in and was on hold for me, a book on one of my favorite subjects, organizing and decluttering.

What’s different about Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life, by Gail Blanke, is that you keep a list as you toss, and don’t stop until you get to 50.

The rule is: throw out a pair of shoes and a t-shirt, and you’ve thrown out two things. Throw out three pairs of shoes and five t-shirts, and you’ve still thrown out just two things.

By the time you reach 50, you’ll have touched every part of your life, chipping away what’s no longer needed or wanted to reveal your life in the present. Blanke calls this “the  Michelangelo method,” based on the story of Michelangelo explaining that he sculpted David by taking away “everything that wasn’t David.”

I love this book. It turns tossing into a game – getting to 50 – and  into a choice: what do you want your life to look like right now? Blanke is right, as you keep adding things to the list of what you’ve tossed, the tossing starts to take on its own energy and momentum.

So far I’ve thrown out some shoes that pinch my feet, a skirt, a silk jacket that doesn’t suit me, some kitchen gadgets – avocado keeper anyone? – and best of all, the office wastepaper basket I’ve had for 30 years.

It’s a personalized wastepaper basket, with “The Wasted Words of Eve Johnson” inscribed on a plaque on the side, a parting gift from colleagues when I left a small magazine to go work at a newspaper.

Over the years I’ve come to believe that no words I write, even the ones that end up in the trash, are wasted. They’re more like compost, a necessary fertilizer for the writing that other people see.

Wasted words? Not me.

Despite the fact that it’s part of my history, the wastebasket left Friday morning with the recycling, and I feel lighter, happier, more current, and yes, in need of a new wastepaper basket.

If anything else interesting shows up, I’ll let you know.

I hope your summer is lazy, and that you sense some changed priorities ahead.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Paolo September 17, 2010, 11:47 pm

    Beautifully said, Eve, especially the bit about wasted words…Ah, I miss my weekly dose of Eve Johnson wisdoms. I hope to drop by 7th Ave soon.

  • Gilian Dusting August 3, 2010, 11:32 am

    Well said, Eve. I am going off to compost a few words right now.

    • Judy August 7, 2010, 1:13 pm

      Hi Eve, There is nothing more precious than a kind word. The kindness in your thoughts shared with us in written form embrace compassion, offer life fortifying suggestions and are just plain good old fun, playfulness for the mind, body and soul. Enjoy the rest of summer. Judy

  • Beverly Fox August 2, 2010, 9:13 pm

    I missed your posts. Welcome home.

  • judy August 2, 2010, 6:10 pm

    Oh this is good…Eve… my plan for my holidays is to declutter…
    I have put together a huge bag of clothes I can no longer wear because somewhere in my menopause and the last 6 months, my breasts have grown to a size I don’t yet recognize…. but I like the idea of the 50 different things.. to go deeper into my “stuff” .. ….This will be a challenge..
    Thx for the inspiration

  • Jenn August 2, 2010, 1:12 pm

    Love this. Ironic too, as I have spent this weekend purging my bedroom. I’ve got another 2-3 hours to go but so far have three garbage bags of clothes, shoes, bags and three of those reusable grocery bags full of books, nick nacks and yes, even jewelry. It feels amazing! It’s my personal prelude to The Shed Project which starts in Sept. as led by Bindu at http://www.binduwiles.com.
    Congrat’s on tossing something you could so very easily justify keeping forever – those sentimental things do seem to find their way to hanging around.
    Welcome back Eve. I missed your writing. And your never wasted words. Jenn

  • Daphne Gray-Grant July 31, 2010, 2:55 pm

    Great column, Eve! I share your affection for decluttering books so may have to try Throw Out 50 Things. Sorry to hear your garbage can got the boot (what did you throw it into — another garbage can??) I agree there are no wasted words, though.