Giving Notice

by Keith Savage · 36 comments

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No, this post is not about quitting my job. At least not directly. It’s about noticing the enriching details of everyday life.

Last weekend Sarah and I spent most of Saturday cleaning out our garage. We aren’t hoarders and we didn’t need to call the Pickers guys, but the garage hadn’t been thoroughly cleaned since we bought the house over two years ago. The cement floor was covered in layers of gravel, dirt, and dust from winters past. Yard implements, grilling supplies, bird seed accoutrements, and various holiday decorations haphazardly lined the walls. Far too many cobwebs lined the window and ceiling for the comfort of modest arachnophobes such as us. Can you visualize it?

So we bit the bullet and moved the contents of the garage onto the front lawn. We worked methodically, often silently, and wiped hard-earned sweat from our brows. The heat of the sun seemed to sear the cicadas, their droning buzz ever present in our ears. Then we swept, hosed out, and vacuumed every last inch of the garage. Thoroughly. Of special note we found one Decon’d dead mouse beneath some shelves and a trio of tiny dessicated mice inside one of my rollerblades amidst the chewed remains of my foam boot liner. Charming.

By now you’re probably wondering why I’m relaying this mundane tale.

With everything purged and the garage spotless, it took on a different appearance. It looked foreign and somehow smaller. I started to notice little details that had utterly escaped me before: a small instruction booklet taped to the garage door track; the stylized lamp hanging next to the side door; two crawlspace panels screwed to the ceiling; a sizable gap beneath the cement floor and the drywall.

I saw a clear allegory. In the middle of this labor I was filled with a startling hope. That when it came time to clean out my mental garage, when it came time to discard all of the thoughts and worries and fears associated with my current position, I would notice the details of the life around me that had gone ignored and unseen for so long. Not for any lack of desire to see those details, trust me, but for lack of mental space, for room to store them.

As tangential as it may seem, this episode helped me believe that sweeping the seven years of dust and cobwebs from my mind would replenish and increase my focus and powers of observation. Being, as I am, on the brink of many strange and wonderful and unpredictable travels, and seeking to earn my stripes as a travel writer, this was hugely affirming.

Travel invites us to actively engage our senses and pay attention to the incoming information. The stippled texture of a cement bench, the mouth-watering scent of a paprika-laced dish, the rumble and clang of a passing street car, the multi-hued folds of light draped across a pastoral landscape – it’s often the details that add a sheen to the experience and pull us so willingly back in time to a moment. Likewise, the best travel writing is laden with sensory details and minor yet evocative flourishes that engage and transport you. Distraction and preoccupation crowded my vision and hid life’s details, much like the presence of all that dirt, grime, and yardy things did in my garage.

Before our trips begin, how can we increase the resolution of our future experience so we can see the details that seemingly hide in plain sight? It occurs to me that our computers and cameras are modeled after our minds, and it helps to think in these terms. We need to take higher resolution–higher megapixel–mental snapshots. And to do this, we need bigger mental hard drives, or at least hard drives with a lot of free space.

Cleaning out our real garage helped me understand that there’s a lot of “stuff” taking up my mental space and hindering my creativity and observations. Seeing all those details jump out at me, well, that’s just a little reminder that all will be well. Luckily, all that “stuff” will be irrelevant in the not-too-distant future and believe me, I’m looking forward to cleaning out that “garage.”

What things, people, jobs, situations are taking up space in your mental garage? What can you “delete” to increase your travel “bandwidth?”

Listening to: Radiohead – How I Made My Millions
Drinking: Aberlour 12 Year

Original photo by ludwig van standard lamp via Flickr under Creative Commons

JenNo Gravatar August 18, 2010 at 2:03 PM

It seems like everything here (home) an time is distracting me from bein present and appreciating those small details that slide by undetected. But that’s obvious and expected when preparing to embark on a huge adventure. One distraction that I wasn’t expecting to be a distraction was my belongings. I feel like objects are crowding my mental hard drive.

Just recently I’ve started disposing of/finding a home for things I won’t be taking with me an I realized that the more my space cleared, the more space I had in my head. What that means? I’m not sure.

This all lead me to develop a series of questions to help me get rid of things. I’ll share the most important one: why am I keeping you? The most common answer: because I’ve associated you with memories. Solution: memories live in the mind, not in stuff.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 18, 2010 at 3:59 PM

Well there’s the rub. Our minds are constantly being overwritten with new data – that’s why we begin to forget things. Humans have the singular gift and curse of being able to imbue any thing with sentimentality and memory. The souvenir industry is based on producing items to “house” memories. Think of those things as thumb drives you can plug in when you need them.

Now that’s not to say I condone the hoarding of souvenirs. Sometimes we don’t need their help, the memory is etched in our brains. And sometimes, it’s OK to forget. Check out Grounded Traveler’s article on being OK with forgetting.

sofiaNo Gravatar August 17, 2010 at 6:16 AM

This is so true, I think we all have a mental garage filling up over time, I often like to see it as a backpack getting heavier and heavier, until you finally decide to throw some stuff out!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 17, 2010 at 8:33 AM

Hey Sofia, another good analogy there. We just have to tell ourselves that it’s OK to throw that stuff out and get back to the basics.

EricaNo Gravatar August 17, 2010 at 3:36 AM

While I have a relatively clean garage, I would like to know how to turn it off at night. Damn you ADD.

I can say that my move to being “self employed” has allowed me to clear out the spiderwebs. I now have a more cheery, sunlit room. <3

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 17, 2010 at 8:35 AM

Erica, yes – adult onset ADD sure seems to be comorbid with the rise of social media 🙂 Sometimes it all seems to be a game of hiding from our deepest feelings and thoughts.

I’m happy to hear your self-employment is treating you well!

WanderingTraderNo Gravatar August 16, 2010 at 8:53 PM

When you move to a different country I feel that your mind is reloaded in a certain way. Especially when you are there for an extended period of time I think that your mind starts to think in a different way that helps clear some of that clutter. You dont worry about mowing the grass, or that thing you wanted to always get to, great read Keith.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 17, 2010 at 8:40 AM

Good point, Marcello. A lot of the “maintenance” of so-called normal life is irrelevant. It really frees us up to enjoy the moment and stay in touch with the now.

GrayNo Gravatar August 16, 2010 at 10:55 AM

IF ONLY I could clear out my brain clutter as easily as house clutter. It’s like I sweep it out, only to have it crawl back in to reclaim residence.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 17, 2010 at 8:37 AM

Hey Gray, ha! Yeah, it’s a lot tougher. Generally, I actually need to remove things I care about from my life to cut the clutter. They just might be things I shouldn’t care about it.

Christy WoodrowNo Gravatar August 16, 2010 at 9:47 AM

That is one of the things I love about traveling. It clears my mind and I’m able to live in the moment, which is what life is all about for me. I’m usually able to enjoy that state of mind for a month or two once I come back home. And when the mental clutter arises again, it’s time for another trip!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 17, 2010 at 8:39 AM

Ditto, Christy. I don’t think I actually realized this, but that’s about when Sarah and I start planning another trip. Interesting!

AndiNo Gravatar August 15, 2010 at 11:17 AM

Now I want to spend the entire day cleaning haha. Thoughtful post like always!!!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 15, 2010 at 8:23 PM

Right? If only cleaning always yielded such fruitful thoughts 🙂 Thanks Andi!

EarlNo Gravatar August 14, 2010 at 10:51 AM

I find that as soon as I begin another stage of travels, my mental garage is emptied out as soon as my backpack is packed. When I’m traveling, I simply don’t have the need to think about or use much of the information that I typically rely on while at home. As a result, all of that useless garbage disintegrates, and I feel the difference immediately.

Whenever I arrive into a new place, the first thing I always notice is how bright the colors are and how detailed the noise is….and even the food I eat has such an intense taste. And truthfully, I experience none of that during my visits home as my mind is too occupied to notice what truly makes life wonderful.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 15, 2010 at 8:25 PM

Hey Earl, consider me envious of your abilities. I really like the way you describe experiencing your destinations…so vibrant.

I’m toasting to the hope it goes the same way for me. Thanks for reading!

martaNo Gravatar August 14, 2010 at 2:17 AM

only a few months back home and my “mental garage” is filling up quickly…maybe I need to clear it out before it got to mess up 🙂

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 14, 2010 at 9:31 AM

If you figure out how to keep it clean, let me know!

AndiNo Gravatar August 13, 2010 at 4:56 PM

Fantastic post and amazingly poignant. I particularly like the line: “Travel invites us to actively engage our senses and pay attention to the incoming information.” I think people miss this all the time. They are too intent on their itinerary, of not missing this thing or that, in fact they will probably miss some of the best things they could possible see be simply paying attention.

I am a big time minimalist, my husband is a hoarder, so every year or so I make him purge and he feels great afterward, I try to convince him that it could be a great feeling all the time!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 14, 2010 at 9:37 AM

I know I’ve been guilty of missing this in my past travels. It’s part of the reason why I write these posts, as a kind of contract with myself to not repeat the mistakes of the past.

I’m a mental minimalist and just starting to seriously thinking about cutting back on our physical possessions. It’s difficult when you aren’t of like minds with your spouse.

Thanks Andi!

CandiceNo Gravatar August 13, 2010 at 3:36 PM

I love your life philosophies, Keith. Cleaning out my mental garage might require some booze, I think.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 14, 2010 at 9:21 AM

Usually requires booze for me too, hence the little note at the bottom of each post indicating what I’m drinking at the time. Cheers! 🙂

JoelNo Gravatar August 13, 2010 at 10:59 AM

I can honestly say that since traveling, the amount of clutter is almost non-existent. Everything was left back at the terminal at LAX.

It’s almost TOO clean up there right now. Makes me want to dig in and start a woodworking project and mess it up a bit.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 13, 2010 at 2:51 PM

Hey Joel, I guess this deserves a commendation for a job well done. It’s hard to leave with a clean slate. Don’t sully it up now for no good reason!

AshalahNo Gravatar August 13, 2010 at 10:38 AM

This was such a beautiful piece! How often have I gotten so tied up with all the nonsense thoughts running through my mind that I have forgotten to remember how great my life is, how beautiful it is. To notice those details that were (temporarily) hidden from sight. I think it’s all just a great reminder to stay focused and present in the now. Travel has definitely helped me with that!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 13, 2010 at 2:54 PM

Thanks for reading, Ashalah, and good to see you here. You put it succinctly: a reminder to stay focused on the present and in the now. I’ve noticed that many of my posts deal with this subject because it’s a known weakness of mine. My mind is almost always hours, days, weeks into the future.

Caz MakepeaceNo Gravatar August 12, 2010 at 10:21 PM

“Don’t let people rent space in your head,” is a favorite saying of mine and Craigs. Just think about how often you dwell on what people have said or done to you. This simple statement is a reminder to us to always sweep them out. I have no room for them as their are more important details to focus on.
I am putting together a somewhat similar post to this. On my return to the beach of my childhood the other day, I noticed the colorful natural fauna that was growing out from the sand dunes all along the beach front. In all my teenage years spent at this beach, I never noticed them before. Which really shocked and stunned me. What must my head have been filled with to never have noticed such simple beauty. Travel certainly helped me to become more aware of the detail around me and more appreciative of it.
BTW I think you have more than earned your stripes as a travel writer!!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 13, 2010 at 2:58 PM

Hey Caz, I like your saying. It’s exactly what I’m getting at with this post. And I appreciate the affirmation that I’ve earned my travel writing stripes. By my estimation, however, I’ve got a long, long way to go yet.

Nick LabordeNo Gravatar August 12, 2010 at 9:41 PM

What things, people, jobs, situations are taking up space in your mental garage?

I could write an epic comment on that question but I’ll spare you. I would say that I have plenty of obsolete data that I should delete. Over the next year I’ll be slowly removing things from my environment that just are not important. Both things and thoughts.

Thanks for the reminder, I literally need to clean out my garage, that will make for a long weekend.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 13, 2010 at 2:49 PM

Hey Nick, that’s hilarious that you needed the reminder to clean your garage LOL. Your tactic is solid. I know I’m guilty of accumulating things with little rhyme or reason. The mental cost of ownership is much greater than any currency cost.

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