Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Getting Organized

When you retire, you finally get a chance to organize your life...

You know the routine, if you have a "job" or are even self-employed.  You get up in the morning, hit the "snooze" button on the alarm clock, wake up a hour later and realize you are late for work.  You rummage through the closet for something to wear - so much seems outdated or doesn't fit.  You find a shirt that is sort of clean and throw it on, grab some sort of donut-bar and a cup of coffee and rush out the door.

It is all-too-easy to fall into a trap - the Salaryman Trap - where you have "no time" to take care of yourself, your finances, or your things.  So you send out for pizza when you come home exhausted.  And since you were late for work, you don't have time to make a lunch, so you spend twenty bucks at some crowded, unsatisfying restaurant near work. Your health deteriorates as a result, and your finances, too.

Of course, not everyone does this.  There are some folks who have their shit together and realize that it is the little things that make the difference between life being grand and being a grind.  And getting off the "I'm so busy!" and "I'm so tired!" bandwagon is a start. We might not think we have "time" to manage our finances and spending, but the reality is, most people have plenty of time, but prefer to indulge themselves with four hours of television and a delivery pizza.  Let's face it, which is more fun, that or balancing your checkbook?

We all have regrets in life - even those of us who claim not to have regrets.  And one thing I do regret is not taking better care of myself, in terms of physical and fiscal health - which can be somewhat related.   As I noted in a recent posting, it is tempting to treat yourself with some tasty tidbit, whether it is a high-calorie snack or a high-dollar purchase.  The initial rush wears off quickly, though, and the long-term effect - on our health and wallet - makes us feel like shit.  So we go back to the crack pipe, so to speak, for another hit of junk food or junk shopping, just to try to recapture that dopamine rush.  It is, in no small way, akin to drug addiction.  In fact, it is the exact same thing.

This is why I rail against the television and the poor normative cues it presents.  The TeeVee wants you to be depressed, because depressed people are excellent consumers as I have noted time and time again. But only recently did I figure out how this works - how buying things and eating crap food gives us that dopamine rush, just as it does for drug addicts and alcoholics.

When you crash-land in retirement-land, it is akin to surviving a plane crash.  The money train comes to an abrupt halt, and you realize (or should realize) that this is all you got left.  You rummage through the wreckage of your tattered 401(k) plan, trying to figure out how long you can survive on those limited rations. Suddenly, it seems that things you took for granted, when you were flying high, were ridiculously obscene.  You make a new friend out of a soccer ball, named "Wilson".

My parents went through this before me.  I recounted before how my Dad dug a jacket out of the closet that I had used as a paperboy back in 1973.  It was bright yellow and I had bought it intentionally so that the snow-plow drivers would see me during the morning blizzards.   It was now 30 years old and my Dad started wearing it.  "This fits great!" he said.  And I guess, since he paid for it, it was his to wear. But stuff like that happens when you retire - you suddenly start to make use of things that in a previous life, you would have discarded.

I have always had a love-hate relationship with clothes.  I was never a clothes-horse or interested in fashions and styles, in fact finding all of that to be a lot of phony marketing bullshit.  I mean, what better way to sell someone something they don't need, other than to tell them their serviceable clothing is now hopelessly "out of style."  And people buy into this, too.  A friend in Atlanta told us that "no one wears pleated pants, anymore!" as if we were country bumpkins who were embarrassing him in front of his real friends.  We don't hang with him anymore, to say the least.

That being said, clothing accumulates.  I found myself with a closet full of t-shirts - the new uniform of our generation.  You go to a park, or a venue, or a tourist attraction, and they sell you the t-shirt.  There is an event going on, and they print t-shirts for it, and often these are given away for free.  We get so many "EVENT STAFF" shirts leftover from island events, but I feel weird wearing them, as if I am trying to pass myself off as a cop or something.

Anyway, I decided, a week ago, to go through all these clothes and toss out the stuff that doesn't fit, isn't comfortable, has weird slogans on it, was worn out, or I just don't wear.  I could cut off the scratchy neck tags and iron-on the old name tags my Mother bought over 50 years ago.  These come in handy, as there are so many shirts today that are "tagless" but have a label printed on the inside of the neck. Problem is, this printing wears off, and you end up putting the shirt on backwards half the time.  No more!

The end result you see is above - I finally have my t-shirts organized!  It is a small victory, but an important one.  For starters, I still have too many damn t-shirts.  I am trying to wear them all, rather than the same one or two, all the time.

My other hobgoblin was the sock drawer.  Let's face it, socks suck.  At Christmas, your parents would always give you socks as a present, which is nice and all, but not really a "present" per se.  I mean, if you want to have kids, that's great.  Feeding and clothing them is part of the deal.  So taking something that is a baseline parental responsibility and claiming it is a "gift" is kind of cheeky.  Besides, as a kid, you see this brightly-wrapped present and tear it open, hoping it is a Gameboy, but get socks, instead. What a letdown! Even worse, you try so hard to not look disappointed.  But no one believes it when you say, "Gee, socks!  Just what I wanted!" because at that age, you just as soon go barefoot.

But I digress.

Our sock drawer was jammed full of socks, all bundled in there willy-nilly. Need a pair?  Start digging!  As a result, the same few pairs end up being worn over and over again.  Worse yet, half the drawer was full of "little people" socks.  I have a size 13EEE shoe and Mr. See has a size 8.  We wear different socks, other then the Dickies (which are still my favorite).   The problem with being disorganized is that you don't realize what you have and if you own something but can't find it (or forgot you had it) it is like not owning it at all.  This sometimes results in duplicate or triplicate purchases of the same item, which is just wasteful.

So, anyway, I went through the sock drawer, which took only about an hour or so.  I threw everything in the washer (which filled it!) and as they came out of the dryer, I sorted them by size, color, and brand, throwing away the worn-out stuff.  We had quite a few "dress socks" from our working days.  I am not sure we need to keep those, or at least not keep them in the sock drawer.  Dollar tree sells nice little organizers - for a dollar - that can hold these rarely-used items.   One bonus was that I discovered we have a short version of the Dickies socks, which I didn't realize we had and come in handy for this warmer weather.

At least now, I can find my socks!

Was it a stupid waste of time?  Maybe, maybe not.  One reason the sock drawer was stuffed to overflowing was that we kept buying more socks, convinced that we didn't have "any good pairs" when in fact we had tons, but they were just inaccessible.  We literally have a lifetime supply at this point.

Of course, the process is not over.  I already went through the underwear drawer.  I need to go through my Hawaiian shirts and discard some of those that are worn, have holes, or no longer fit.  And there are some dress pants and suits that need to go away, as well as dress shoes that haven't been worn in years.  Why do we save this crap?   Oh, right, we paid "good money" for it, and cannot bear to throw any of it away.

When we are younger, we view owning a lot of "things" as a sign of wealth or luxury.  In almost every movie that portrays a wealthy woman, there is a scene in her walk-in closet where they show the racks and racks of shoes the woman owns.  Apparently, to a lot of women, this is akin to the trope of the aluminum suitcase full of $100 bills.  But if you think about it, it is kind of dumb.  You can never wear all those shoes, and owning them provides no enjoyment in and of itself, other than to show-off your shoe collection to intimidate other women.  Sadly, a lot of middle-class people get drawn into this nonsense, convinced they can afford the walk-in closet full of shoes, at least metaphorically speaking, when they really can't.

What is interesting about retiring and getting older is how you want less in life.  Owning a house seems like a swell deal and touted as "The American Dream" by deceptive politicians (I am being redundant).  But the reality is, you learn after a lifetime, that a house is just a series of expenses, and like with a car, the more expensive the house is, the more you pay for these expenses.  A fancy roof with lots of valleys and features seems keen (the vaunted "rich people's roof" as I call it) but when it comes time to replace it, you may be chagrined to learn it will cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace - money you may not have or want to spend.  Twenty grand buys a lot of fun, but not a lot of roof.  Suddenly, a one-bedroom condo seems more appealing than ever.

Compounding this is the "sea of crap" effect we see all-too-often on retirement island.  People start to drown in the junk they collect.  As a retiree, you don't want to "waste money" so you become more reluctant to throw things away, which leads to nascent hoarding.   We've been to many an estate sale or have helped neighbors pack up to move, and it is sad to see all the crapola they've been unable to part with over the years.  Jars of rusty nails, or an old fry pan with a broken handle (that they long ago replaced with a new pan).  It isn't that they are "poor" but that they get in this mindset that throwing things away is "wasteful".

I desperately want to downsize and simplify my life.  I find things that I have kept and it horrifies me.  Old pairs of glasses from a decade ago that make me dizzy when I put them on.  Why on earth would I be saving those?  The list goes on forever, it seems.

Fortunately, I have one thing on my side (or at least think I do, the almighty has the final word on these deals) - time.  I try to make a "project" every day to clean and organize some small corner of my life, to "tidy up" and throw away something or some things.  It isn't really "boring" as you might think, but actually liberating.  Because when you are done organizing, you realize you have things you forgot you had, and that an area of your life is now neat and more usable.  It is a way of preventing learned helplessness from setting in - by doing something to alter your environment.

Now, to organize my tool chest!  Ugh!