Seeking the edge of irrationality

So I’m doing this thing, right? Thirty days of giving things away. A couple boxes or a small trunkful at a time. Shifting the physical stuff when the emotional stuff feels too scary…except knowing that eventually the physical stuff will run into the emotional stuff. It’s a sneaky stuff party! 

This week I kept thinking: This is too damn easy. I was having so. much. fun! I had to pace myself. I had to refrain from going on a cleaning splurge!

Don’t give it all away at once, I kept thinking! I’m going to hit Day 30 in no time and have to commit to an extra month in order to get to the hard stuff!

I began to think, maybe my irrational nostalgia* is not as strong as it used to be — maybe I’m just ready to give up everything. And if so? Bring it on!

And then, of course, I hit a tiny wall. 

The Christmas Box and the coin mug

I found myself hesitating over what felt like a truly random and unworthy object: half of a set of Twelve Days of Christmas-themed stacking boxes. A decorative flourish type of thing that doesn’t go well with nosy cats and toddlers. Not my style. Easy!

But my gut reaction hesitated mightily, so I left it in the trunk.

And I thought to myself, I’m not being irrational. I just changed my mind, you see.

The box is still in my trunk, a week later. In limbo. But I moved on…

Last night, I found an old mug full of foreign coins. I spilled them out on the floor, planning to donate everything except two satisfyingly hefty British pound coins. I gathered the rest up, ready to donate…and then I rapidly dumped them back up into their familiar mug and put it back in the Keep pile.

Ouch. Ouch!

The coin mug made me realize what had happened with the Christmas box: ouch! It was like stepping on my own toe.

I wanted to think there was no pain. It’s half of a slightly-ugly set of pointless holiday decorations! It’s a mug of small change! What could be more useless!?

But there was something hiding there.

Obligations. Expectations and consequences, both imagined and real. Connections to my own past. Dreams about my future.

What to do?

The nostalgia box

I wasn’t able to come up with a good answer to that difficult cargo of questions and expectations and connections. Maybe I’ll get there later, it’s hard to know.

I do know that when I began this project and thought ahead to the possible difficulties, I imagined a future in which I had one small box of nostalgic keep-it-anyway stuff. Not several large boxes and innumerable small caches in drawers and desks and jewelry boxes. And one small box of Penny’s baby clothes, not massive piles.

So I created my nostalgia box.

Some of what I kept


One shoebox.

Plenty of room for more additions.

A little box of safety for those stubbed toes, I guess.

I’m still not sure what I’ll do about things that don’t fit into a shoebox (my mandolin? my fancy camera?) and fall into that want-to-donate-but-can’t category.

But I do feel strengthened (chastened?) by this first encounter with the irrational weirdness. Because it made me get the urge to quit the project, to admit it was foolish and/or impossible, but I also glimpsed the pattern there: the immense fatigue at realizing something I’d dismissed as easy had in fact turned out to be hard; the painful panic when hitting that edge of irrationality, impossible to understand and impossible to route around; the seeking of justifiable quick exits (eight days is good enough! or…work is just so damn busy! or…) not as a means of wrapping up but as a means of escaping that irrational void.

These are precisely the same patterns** I run into in other areas of my life. Precisely the challenges I want to face. The challenges I designed this project to address, even!

This is just a note to myself to remember: this is what you want to do. Even when it’s hard. (Especially when it’s hard.) With as much compassion as you can muster. With safety. With courage. With gentle investigation.

You want to seek out the edge of irrationality and carefully navigate around and through it in order to find whatever new balance lies on the other side. With hopefully fewer stubbed toes.

Eight trunkfuls of giveaways


Because eight days has been awesome. The full thirty awaits with more rewards. It’s worth it to keep going.


xo, my friends. Thank you, as always, for reading.



* Point of clarification! I say “irrational nostalgia” not because I don’t believe in and value nostalgia. I do. It’s a big part of my identity. Nor do I believe in eradicating the irrational from my life. Hello, no way. However! Some nostalgia feels good (aw, my old journals!) and some nostalgia makes me itchy (why do I have this closet-sized hoard of stuff I’m not touching and not using and aaaaaaaaahhhhh burn it all!). Partly I want to investigate that “keep it” urge and find out where it intersects with the “burn it” urge. Just to clarify!
** This round of immensely loud and brain-poppingly amazing pattern-noticing and brain breaking is brought to you, as usual, by Shiva Nata and especially the amazing last month of classes with Havi. Singing and hopping and madly flailing is the brightest and best counterpart to this thirty-day project: gleeful abandon to chaos and the whirling forms and patterns in order to break it all down and build it all anew. Oh yes.

About jesse k.

Writer. Mama. Spy in the house of self-awareness. Occasional crafter, letterpress geek, and academic snob.
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12 Responses to Seeking the edge of irrationality

  1. hils says:

    When I do huge purges it’s usually before we move and I use the “Have I looked at this in a year?” rule. I feel like the more times I do this, the easier it is to just get rid of it all, because I have never regretted getting rid of ANY of it! That said, I have days where it’s easier to get it done than others. Sometimes it’s better to walk away from it and return the next day!

    • jesse k. says:

      The mug of coins thing also happened late at night when I was already pretty wiped from going to a class, so I tried to give myself some slack!

      But nonetheless, I feel like I did a huge purge when we moved to this condo (so 2 years ago) and still have MASSIVE amounts of stuff that is never looked at in a year and yet very very special to me. In that irrational way. Like there was a tiny blue jewelry box thing in the last giveaway load whose sole purpose, since I was in high school, was to hold a bracelet. I have lots of stuff like this, little stuff hiding away in various places; of course then there’s the bigger stuff: how much gardening stuff do I hold onto for when we have a house with a yard again? Do I keep my canning supplies? My letterpress stuff? My fabric stash? There’s a lot of “someday” also camping out in my mental space. Like Penny’s baby clothes that used to hold the place of “possible second girl baby.” Stuff like that, you know?


  2. Marlene says:

    Maybe you need an official Limbo Pile for the hard stuff. Box it, tape it shut, date it, and stash it somewhere where you won’t stub your toe on it. Set up a delayed-send email to yourself for 2 or 3 months from now that says “donate limbo box”. When you get the email, donate the box. Don’t revisit it. If, before you get the email you’ve had an urge to decorate with half a set of Christmas boxes, or you set up a trip where you might use some of the small change, then you can pull the stuff and keep it. If not, move it on — there’s probably someone haunting the thrift shop, waiting and waiting for the other six days of Christmas to show up.

    I know this doesn’t directly help your (very impressive) thirty-day project, but it might help you ease through the intersections of physical and emotional stuff.

    The Keep Pile runs tyrannical; this is a sneaky way of escaping its dictatorial claws.

    • jesse k. says:

      The problem I have with the Limbo Pile is that I create a new one (or a new version of it) every time I got through a large purge — there is *always* stuff that I want to want to give away, and can’t. And the whole point of this project is to consciously interact with that hard stuff, not just the easy stuff — to truly investigate the hard stuff. And if I leave myself only one Nostalgia Shoebox, there is only room for a tiny amount of stuff. Eventually I am going to run out of room and have to ask the even harder questions.

      The Christmas box is another story…I have the other half of the set, located easily in another closet. It’s not about the incompleteness. It’s about the emotional stuff located in the boxes, mother stuff and family stuff and that kind of baggage 🙂

  3. Sue T says:

    This post is so to the point for me right now.
    I have been going through family and personal photos — I’d like to make duplicates of many for my cousin who lost all of hers in a house fire. Conveniently, this meant I was ready to haul them all out of the house to get them away from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. CDs with scanned copies will take a long time to make but would have been a lot easier to load into the car, even if I still want to keep the printed copies.
    However, many other things had to remain behind. As I stowed them away in plastic boxes (in case of wind/water damage after broken windows or roof breaches), or on higher shelves (in case of basement flooding), I was reminded again how good it would feel to pass many of these things on to others and not have them as guilt-bombs or back-ache creators. There is so much! Like you, I found some things that aren’t even sentimental — too good to just toss, but inconvenient to store (e.g., fabrics I will use “sometime”). Other items I’m no longer attached to, but they just will take some effort to dispose of. Doing a little at a time saves the back but allows the enthusiasm for disposal to wane, and the sentimental attachments to reassert themselves. I want to figure out how to capture the feelings that purging can be good, and let them help me stay on the project.

    • jesse k. says:

      Pictures are hard. I find myself running into limits with physical photos and with digital photos — how much do I really want to keep? What do I really want their future purpose to be? I keep thinking about these things, hoping it will help give me a better idea of how to guide my own process of keep versus give away.

      Thank you for reading 🙂

  4. KJ says:

    Do we need “rational” reasons to want to keep things? I’m not sure that we do. Then again, I have a box labeled “Historical Band T-Shirt Archive” in my closet.

    Happy purging (ugh, sounds digestive)!

    • jesse k. says:

      No, I definitely agree with having fully irrational reasons to keep things (see my first starred footnote!). It’s the gray area in the irrational nostalgia that I want to interact with, you know?

      I need a better word than purge or cleanse — both sound a little too medieval and/or digestive to me, you’re so right! I’ve been using “giveaway” but it’s a little imprecise. It’ll have to do for now!

  5. Claire P says:

    Sounds like what you’re doing (going mindfully, curiously and deliberately (and bravely!) into the hard stuff and !!! sticking with the process) is what I’m calling in my ‘practice’ “dancing with the darkness”.

    May I take up a lot of comment space? Because I can haz thoughtz on this…

    Here’s what I think. I AM always going to go through the familiar pattern of Starting Thing–>Triggers Stuff–>Avoidance of Thing–>Feeling lousy about being in avoidance–>Conversing with Stuff–>Learning something useful–>Getting on with Thing–>Triggers Stuff and rinse and repeat.

    I’ve always hated the loop. Hated the fact that my Stuff comes up (uggh you still have stuff? LOSER!), hated being in avoidance (boo hisss PROCRASTINATOR), hated feeling bad about BEING a procrastinator (LOSER!), and the anticipation of the conversations (aaarrggh run awaaay!).

    (The conversations in and of themselves have never been THAT bad and I do always love the Self-Discovery Treasures that get uncovered.)

    But the Pattern of Stuck told me that it just is what it is, a pattern I go through, it’s not actually an entity of its own, it has no agenda in keeping me on it and it’s not out to suck me in and get me! Oh, right. Um…. yay.

    So, I guess the secret is not to avoid Starting Things, in order to avoid the Stuff and the loop, but to ACCEPT (radical acceptance!) that Stuff and the loop are ALWAYS GOING TO BE A PART OF DOING THE THING.

    Oh. No getting out of it, huh? Nope. It’s here. Nothing to be AFRAID of, just a part of the process of Doing the Thing.

    I guess it’s what Havi calls not being IMPRESSED by it, not responding to the fact that Stuff Comes Up with anything other than well, der, I guess I’m a real live human being with fears and painful memories and other crap. Just like everybody else.

    Not to have to like having it (stuff), but not to fear that HAVING stuff discredits or delegitimising the process of Doing Things. That working with Stuff is a distraction from The Thing, or believing that Only Losers Have Stuff ergo I Am A Loser.

    But to move into a mode of acceptance and responsibility. Yes, I have stuff (hi pain, hi fear, hi avoidance). So what? What am I going to do now?

    To accept that this is just part of the choreography of my life, to just go through the steps (taking notes!) knowing that pain is just part of the process. There is no life without struggle. Life is suffering or some noble crap like that.

    To dance with life! The light and the shadow, the beauty and the pain, the joy and the tedium. Never to NOT DANCE. Never to AVOID the Thing (thing!) just because of the darker parts of it. Never to hate the pain so much that I stop dancing!

    To keep on dancing. To get better at doing the shadow-side-shimmy, the pain-prance, the tedium-twirl. Not my favourite steps but an essential part of life. No getting out of them.

    To get REALLY EFFICIENT at the crappy parts of the Dance Loop. To move quickly through the avoidance and feeling lousy about being in avoidance bits and getting on to the Conversing with Stuff and back to Doing The Thing part of the Dance Loop really fast.

    And then eventually to maybe ask: what can I learn from these steps? Like in yoga, being curious about what I can do to make these poses easier, nicer, better, more interesting, more ?fulfilling? ??enjoyable??!?.

    There are two types of poses in yoga: there are the poses that you love, and the poses that you are learning to love.

    Not just in yoga, either. Yes.

    Good wishes to you Jesse. xox

    • jesse k. says:

      Hi Claire! Love this comment. I have to say, the whole “life is suffering” part of the equation always gets my nose out of joint — I want to believe it will be easy! all! the! time! sunshine and daisies! What I love about this daily practice is that it doesn’t give me space to hide from the roundabout of avoidance/destuckification … and in that sense it’s helping me speed up the process of understanding 1) ouch this hurts, 2) try something slightly different, 3) huh, i guess that feels okay, and 4) on to the next thing! It’s part desensitization therapy, part soothing repetition, part madcap adventure (find more stuff! give it away! say goodbye!).

      So glad this is helping you think through some of this stuff, too. We’re all in it together! xo

  6. Pingback: Love for a sensitive self | my seed house

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