What to do?

As I look at the pictures and watch the videos of the devastation in Japan — unfathomable even when right before my eyes — I keep wishing what I’ve wished since first hearing the news: I wish I could send money directly to Japan, whether to the Japanese government or whatever FEMA-like agency or national nonprofit it designates.

I wish I could send the money right from my PayPal account to their account, without wondering which middleman charity to go through. Which one will handle the money responsibly. Which one will spend less of it on overhead. Which one will make best use of it. Which one will get it to the people who need it fastest. Which one won’t waste all the money I’ve sent sending me endless follow-up requests for more money.

I’ve read that so much of the money donated to Haiti hasn’t even been spent or distributed, no doubt bogged down in bureaucracy or in the sheer difficulty of trying to accomplish things in such an impoverished country with little infrastructure.

Japan is so different: It has the ability to mobilize and get things done. I believe it will take care of its people. And I believe its people will take care of each other and their country. All I want to do is help. Directly help.

Do Japanese people pay taxes? I write checks regularly to the United States Treasury. Is there a Japan Treasury? A well-known Japanese charity that helps victims of disasters? A church? A temple? How about a worldwide Japan Recovery Fund, administered by the Japanese government, to be used to rebuild?

It’s sad that I don’t quite trust the big U.S. or international charities enough to donate to them without hesitation. Sure, if everything I read in the next couple days and enough sources advise me to contribute to one of them, I surely will. But I’ll keep wishing for something else.

Though, come to think of it, would I trust the U.S. government to spend my donation wisely if it were our country in this position? Ummm, clearly not, as I don’t much care for the way it spends my money in general (talk about overhead, bureaucracy, corruption….). Maybe it’s the same in Japan?

Such uncertainty.

I know I’m not alone. Everyone I know wants to help. I just wish I knew the best way to do that. It’s easy to write a check and think I’ve done my small part. It’s hard to know if I’ve made that donation work as hard as possible. Or if it’s really made a difference at all.

Dear people of Japan…how can I best help you?

Nobody made a greater mistake than
he who did nothing because he could only do a little.

~ Edmund Burke


The “simplify” mantra has become so popular, and it’s easy to see why. Now that the Christmas decorations are down and the house is more or less back to normal, it actually looks a little stark. Which, if you know me, you know I have tons of chatchkes and collectibles and so does Mike, so for the status quo to look “stark,” you can imagine the holiday excess.

But it’s so refreshing. The house feels like it has breathing space. And I actually got Mike to help me load up the car with several boxes, bags of clothes, and some unused tables to donate to the local Christian Laymen’s organization. It felt so great to get rid of stuff I’ve had packed up for probably a year (how embarrassing). Now I want to do more!

The problem is a genetic predisposition to hoard. My mother grew up during the Depression; times were hard and the family had very little; as a result, she throws nothing away (the attic and basement in our family home are downright scary). Her brother was the same way. My cousins tell of cleaning out my uncle’s things after he died and coming upon a bucket filled with the little nozzles from spray cans. I guess you just never know when you might need one — or a thousand. As a result, my sisters and I are fascinated by stories about people who hoard — we can see those same traits in ourselves.

My friends coined a good name for this need to simplify — CRaP (Consolidate, Reduce, and Plan). Some things I’m wrestling with in my own CRaP efforts:

  • Cookbooks. Aside from a few favorites I can’t part with, I have probably 10 others I never open. The Web is always my go-to source for recipes these days…so surely some of the cookbooks can go?
  • Books in general. I don’t have anything like an extensive library, but we have a few shelves in the attic of novels and a few textbooks, and I have some work-related business topical books (that I never look at). I don’t know, I have visions of someday having a little library and time to sit down with a good book in front of a roaring fire. But I’ve read all these…keep ’em anyway?
  • Collectibles. I have a lot of stuff, including a large collection of china and nowhere to even display it all. I have a couple boxes of really lovely things all packed up. There’s not really a market for them anymore, even on eBay — I acquired them over time and many were gifts, but I’m at a loss. I suspect these will have to stay in their boxes for a while longer.
  • Clothes. Having worked from home these last 9 years, my wardrobe is a joke — a few go-to outfits for business meetings and the occasional event, and a lot of stuff that looks 10-15 years out of date. And dressy clothes I haven’t worn since the long-ago days of office Christmas parties. I know at least another garbage bag full can go, along with a couple coats.
  • Housewares. I have many things tucked away in cedar chests and such — curtains, drapes, throw rugs, comforters — things I can’t use here, but I always think “someday?” (On HGTV shows, they’re always raiding people’s closets and pulling out “treasures” like this to redo spaces — what are the odds a designer is going to come and do that for me?)
  • Work samples. I have a couple underbed boxes filled with old print samples of projects I worked on 10 or 15 years ago (back in the days when companies actually printed materials instead of just posting them on the Web.) These are tough to part with for historical reasons, but I haven’t looked at them in years and I do have some portfolio binders as well in case a prospective client wants to see samples.

Oh the burden of our possessions. Tastes change, spaces change, styles change, sizes change, but our stuff stays the same. I do feel the load, particularly since I’ve moved more than most people and know what it feels like to have to pack it all up, haul it somewhere else, and deal with it there. Oh, and you have to love all the paper — 7+ years of income tax records, bank statements, and such — forced clutter. Along with project papers that “I just might need.”

But, now that the S I M P L I F Y mood is upon me, I want to keep going. To feel lighter and less burdened. To make room for new ideas, new ways of looking at things, and yes, maybe some new possessions more in tune with how I feel and what I want now. It sounds so S I M P L E — why is it so, so H A R D?

The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away
such parts of the marble block as are not needed –
it is a process of elimination. 
                                                ~ Elbert Hubbard