Look Up – and Love the Ones You’re With

It’s spring, the weather is warming, the trees are budding a fresh happy green, and I want to start a campaign. It doesn’t have to be on every bus bench, or t-shirt, or go viral on the internet.  It’s made up of two simple words, ‘Look Up’.  Look Up.  Look Up.  Look Up. Though, my campaign has a subtitle – ‘Love the One You’re With‘.  So right now, stop staring at your screen for a minute and smile at someone nearby.  Smile at your partner.  Smile at the person at the next table.  The one right beside you at the transit station.

Didn’t you go out to a coffee shop to escape the loneliness of working at home?    So let your eyes, and your humanity, drift away from focusing on your iPad.  Take a break from texting on your cell phone. Look Up from the work, or play, that is keeping your attention on your laptop.  Engage a stranger, if only with just a smile.

I am guilty, too.  I have to wait to meet a friend at a restaurant, and I immediately reach for my phone.  I hear that twinkly sound of  ‘you’ve got a text’ and I’m immediately eager to see who is reaching out to me.  “No, just Look Up”, I tell myself. The greeting will wait for me, if I just resist the urge to look down – away from the world unfolding around me, the toddler impressing his parents at the next booth, the waitress who might linger at my table, or I could gaze out the big window –  see the golden setting sun, the small birds on the horizon, the row of purple tulips.

Perhaps I’m alone having a pick-me-up in a favourite coffee shop –  what do I do? Voila, I reach for the comfort of my phone, to check my text messages, my email messages and maybe even Google the weather.  Instead, I could resist the temptation to touch my cool perfectly weighted phone (thanks Steve) and smile at a stranger, or pause to connect with a silly comment about the weather, the way people used to – in the old days – sharing a thought with someone new.  Worse is when we can’t resist the sneak a peak at the iphone when we’re not alone, but are with friends or family that we’ve sought out, or who have sought us out, to spend a few low-tech minutes of actual straight up human connection.  That’s where the subtitle comes in – the ‘Love the one (s) your with’.

On a recent wet and windy day I stepped into that warm coffee shop to view the customers in the line-up, and those hunkered down at the tables with their half-sweet-non-fat-extra-hot-vanilla-what ever’s all looking down, hiding with their many sized screens.  “Look Up,” was what I wanted to bravely call out.  “Look Up and Smile.” 

Challenge – To Buy a Thing (anything) I Must Get Rid of a Thing

It started a few years ago.  I was reading something in my long quest to live a more Zen existence.  (When my four kids were infants I actually, in desperation, attended a class on how to be more organized at home – and nervously laughed at (not with) the anal instructor who only let her kids wear two different colors from the whole rainbow of colors).   Part of organizing was major de-cluttering and gaining space in my space. With that in mind, for the last two years, if I bought an item of clothing (a weakness) I gave one away – buy one, lose one – no breaking the deal. It wasn’t that hard – my closet was dreadfully full but now, on that road to feeling free-er, I just made a new deal with myself – this could be a much bigger challenge.  Now, for every single thing I purchase – I have to rid my home, garage, yard, or car of something.  Yet, buy one, lose one can’t become an excuse for careless consuming, it has to be more of ‘I have too many things surrounding me, and if I believe I need something else – ie. a book for winter reading, a snow shovel that isn’t annoyingly bent, a colourful (hopeful) spring table cloth, a basket for the growing collection of granddaughter toys … I need to give something up. If there is nothing to let go of – there is nothing to gain, sort of thing.

My dear grandmother was a bit of a hoarder – having raised her family through the depression when people darned socks instead of discarding them, and sewed clothes from flour sacks (seriously).  When she passed away we would marvel at what she had kept, and then my mother would say, of course she kept that – she kept everything.  Her saving grace was that she didn’t buy a lot.  She seldom went shopping just to be tantalized, mesmerized even, by a new fancy thing.

I like to have the objects that cheer, inspire or comfort me near by.  But I can’t stand clutter.  When I was raising four kids in this house – kids who might be on a total of six sports teams, working on x number of  ridiculous dioramas for school, building their own collections of fairies, celebrity paper dolls, heart shaped rocks, animal bones (they thought dinosaur carnage – most likely cow’s), or snowboard parts – back then, I was a sucker for every de-cluttering book that came down the pike.

So awhile back as they were all in stages of leaving home I took up a ‘get rid of one hundred item’ challenge.  I kinda have an aversion to throwing things away.  I’ve made solo trips to the well managed local dump but I can never help thinking, as I toss my broken junk into the seagull filled pit, that maybe someone, somehow could use this or that.  So I mostly take it to the Society for Women In Need, even though I’m pretty sure that as I drive away (rip out of their parking lot so as not to be recognized) the staff are cursing my back, demanding to know which women in need could possibly need my junk.

The first twenty-five of the hundred was easy-peasy – clothes that never fit, linens without destinations, other kids lost articles.  The second twenty-five went slower, shoes I wanted to wear but never wore, useless kitchen gadgets, smelly lotions, soaps, and bubble baths that were never opened.  I picked up speed again after a few calls to the kids asking permission to ditch the floppy frayed stuffies – agreeing to keep a certain large teddy, a ratty twisted tail cat, and Bunny Ding Dong (I never would have tossed Bunny Ding Dong).    

I flipped though my library of de-cluttering Zen books and gave myself permission, as instructed, to give away gifts that just never hit the mark.  “If you thanked the gift giver and felt appreciation for the gift – you don’t have to keep it.”  I think I hit my stride at around sixty items packed into boxes and bags or handed to friends.  Two of my neighbours started their own one- hundred item cull as I reached eighty, and then ninety items, and pontificated over how exhilarating  it felt to look around my living room and say – hey, I don’t even like that vase collecting dust on that high shelf, and pull it down along with the stupid angel ornament.

That was two years ago – today I start – You-can’t-bring-anything- in-without – bringing- something-out.  With some zany misplace enthusiasm I got groceries yesterday and thought – does this count?  If I buy two tomatoes, sure I can compost those two potatoes with the long eyes growing out of the bag.  The peanut butter is to replace empty peanut butter, and the dish soap likewise.   Slow down, I told my hyped-up self, looking at the three bags of groceries on the floor.  Clear up the pantry for the food bank – like, hungry people want my unopened anchovy paste – but stick with the original plan.  Groceries don’t count.  Hubby might wonder what’s happening, if you become a crazy extremist de-clutter-er.

But if I really needed a new rug for that spot beside the bed – something has to go.  And if I buy those flower pots at Ikea to put some sunny-wishing-for- spring flowers in, what will they usurp?   The goal is to never own more objects then the ones I have accumulated already.  Luckily, hubby isn’t much of a shopper – except for an occasional foray into Costco to buy a container of juice that won’t fit in the fridge and mustard for one thousand hot dogs.