Archive for May, 2016

May 28, 2016

Cleaning House

by Tabitha Kidwell

After finishing the long, busy, stressful spring semester, I spent the next week doing something that would bring me incredible joy: cleaning my apartment! I realize some people would, I don’t know, relax or read a book or something. But I had been so busy all semester that I was just gradually living in more and more filth, so it was incredibly gratifying to get everything back in shape. And I didn’t just clean this time – I deep cleaned. I cleaned out the refrigerator, moved the oven to mop, vacuumed under the couch cushions, and generally got serious about eliminating grime and dust bunnies.

And I didn’t just deep clean – I also did a through sorting through of all my belongings. Even after just one year living in my apartment, and two years back in the States, I feel like I have accumulated too much stuff. I’m basically the opposite of a hoarder – I love getting rid of things, not keeping them. Last summer, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Japanese organizational guru Marie Kondo, and was so inspired that I took notes! The idea that you could magically change your life through organization is very appealing to me. Marie Kondo suggests the “Kon-Mari” method of sorting through your things. You follow a prescribed order, first starting with the easy things like clothes (tops, bottoms, hanging clothes, etc.), then papers, then books, then household goods, etc..  You gradually increase the difficulty of parting with the items until you finally arrive at mementos. For every new category, you start by finding every item in the house and piling it on the floor. So, for tops, you take your t-shirts out of the drawers, blouses off of their hangars, sweaters off the shelf, and make a giant pile on the floor. It’s fun to see everything in a pile, but this is also important for two reasons. First, it lets you see just how many of this item you actually have.  For instance, I had a stupid number of shoes:

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Seeing all the shoes you own, for instance, shows you that you can definitely afford to part with a few. Second, you have to actually put the item back in its spot, so you have to actively make the decision to keep it, rather than just glancing through your closet, pulling out a few things to give away, and calling it a day. To decide if you want to keep something, you first pick it up and hold it. Then you ask “Does this top bring me joy?” If it does, you keep it. If not, you thank it for its service and set it free to bring joy to someone else. (Meaning, you throw it away, recycle it, or put it in a box to lug to Goodwill.) The idea is that you shouldn’t keep things that don’t bring you joy, but the system broke down a bit when you come to categories like “socks” or “credit card statements.” Do these running socks bring me joy? Well, maybe not, but I really enjoy running, and I really don’t enjoy blisters, so maybe indirectly. Maybe this means I should be buying running socks that bring me joy, like really fun, fluorescent running socks. But I am brought more joy by the idea of not getting rid of perfectly serviceable running socks. The socks went back in the drawer.

So I repeated this process for literally every item in my house. Well, that isn’t true. Three separate people have asked me “Did you do it with your scarves?” I should have, in the “accessories” category, but I already knew that my scarves brought me joy. In fact, the only thing in the world that could being me more joy than the scarves I own is the possibility of owning more scarves. It would have been foolish to pile all the scarves on the floor, then immediately hang them all up again. So the scarves got a bye.

I got rid of quite a few things, including a box of books, huge plastic tub of clothes, and quite a few trash bags of random crap. I got rid of DVDs I have kept since I was in the Peace Corps, and have never watched. I got rid of a coat with 3/4-length sleeves I have always felt silly wearing, because, what is the point of a coat with 3/4-legnth sleeves? I got rid of books from college that I have moved from apartment to apartment because you never know when I will want to read Sartre’s La Nausée again (Answer: never). I got rid of a lot of things, and I don’t think I will regret it. I thought back to all the things in my life that I have gotten rid of, and could only come up with a handful of things I regret letting go of:

First, this red dress I bought at a road-side stall in Madagascar and proceeded to wear everyday on Christmas vacation 2004:

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Please disregard the back-up dancers.

Also, this Buckeye costume I sewed for my sister on Halloween 2007:

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Please disregard the woman dressed as a smurf.

And lastly, this t-shirt with puffy sleeves. And the reversible shorts. And that tiny house. Actually, pretty much everything in the picture:

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Don’t disregard anything here!  This is pure childhood bliss!  That wagon!  That sandbox!  That teeter-totter!

Otherwise, over the course of my life, I have worked my way through countless belongings, passed them on, and have never thought about it again. I acknowledge that it’s a first-world problem to own so many belongings that you feel stressed out about owning so many belongings. I try to combat this by buying very little to begin with, and buying used when I can (sometimes I cannot, like when I accidentally go to Target and spend my entire graduate assistant paycheck). It’s a luxury to get rid of things you may someday need because you know that you will be able to go out and buy them again. I’m really lucky to be able to buy things, not use them, and then feel joy through the act of getting rid of them. That’s a really strange thing to do, when you think about it. Nevertheless, having just the correct amount of belongings somehow makes me very happy. Its comforting to know that I have what I need, that I can keep what I love, and that I can let go of everything else. It gave me a feeling of lightness to get rid of things I don’t really need anymore. Was it life-changing magic? Probably not. Was it a fun way to spend the first week of summer break? Absolutely.

May 21, 2016

PhD: Year Two Finished!

by Tabitha Kidwell

It’s funny, isn’t it, how I haven’t posted much between the months of September and May since I started grad school two years ago? Hopefully that will change soon, because I am almost done with course work! Two years ago, 48 credit hours seemed like a huge number, but taking 10 hours a semester will get you there before you know it. I just have two online courses this summer, and that will be it! I’ll never again have to shuffle the demands of taking four classes (and teaching one). I think things will be a little easier next fall, but I am almost certainly wrong about that. Throughout the past two years, I have often thought that life would be easier – and that my to-do list would be shorter – after I finished a certain paper, got back from a conference, ended the semester, etc. It did get easier – nothing will compare to the misery of my first semester of coursework – but it never got any less busy, and my to-do list just seemed to get longer and longer.

Nevertheless, I am really looking forward to the end of coursework. More senior grad students tell me that they miss the days when classes gave more shape to their lives, but I’m really excited to be able to read what I want to read rather than what my professors assign. Coursework has given me basic research skills and a foundation in the field that I now feel able to build on independently. I’ve been focusing so much energy on finishing coursework, however, that I feel a bit like this:

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I have almost made it to the end without giving much thought to what happens next. Finishing coursework simultaneously gives me a feeling of accomplishment (because now I just have to write a dissertation) and and a strong sense of impending doom (because now I just have to write a dissertation). I have been so caught up in the last four semesters of coursework that I feel like I have done nothing prepare myself for the bottomless pit that is dissertation research.

Of course, I have done more than I realize to to prepare. The whole PhD sequence is designed to prepare you and to help you take one step at a time. Once I finish coursework, I will have enough of a grounding in the field to direct my own further reading so I can write my comprehensive exams (which, in our department aren’t so much exams, as really long papers) next fall and winter. Then I’ll propose my dissertation next spring. I’ll spend the 2017-2018 school year collecting data, then the 2018-2019 school year analyzing it and writing, and then I’ll defend the dissertation in about three years. It seems like a lot to do, but so did 48 hours of coursework, and the past two years flew by. If I think about all those steps at once, it feels overwhelming, but if I think about starting to read for my comps, that seems like something I can do. Just like finishing coursework, all those milestones will pass by before I know it. Then I will feel like this:

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I would say that things will be better then – less stressful, less busy – but I have learned enough from coursework to realize that that will never happen. At least, in three years, I will have a PhD to prove that I am qualified to handle all that stress!