As it goes, myself with millions of others, I started the new year with the quest to conquer the clutter. In the first few days of the year I noticed several of my friends posting on facebook about limiting their shopping, cleaning out closets and like us, heading in for battle into the dreaded dungeon, the basement. Our basement, the catch all for the ‘i don’t have time for you’, ‘I don’t know what to do with you’ or ‘I want to keep you but I don’t really have room for you’, things. It was time to tackle it, all of it.
I went into it optimistically and feeling like this would be fairly straight forward. I had done a major decluttering two years ago and had felt that I had laid the ground work for being able to let go and to see all this stuff as just that, stuff. Well… I was wrong.
I had been down for a bit during the process and was considering that I might be depressed. But I know depression and even though I was exhibiting similar traits it didn’t feel like that…it just felt, off. It felt heavy. It felt unfamiliar. Which for me, being someone who likes to feel in control, was unsettling. And so I mulled it over. Doing my best to still achieve my goal and push myself to continue the quest but honestly not motivated to do anything productive. Taking it in stride, trying to understand why I was feeling this way when mostly only good things were and are happening in my life and while slow going, I’m successfully dealing with this clutter. Why was I waking up feeling like a bomb is going to drop any second.
I was having a quiet moment and it ended up in a ah ha moment. I realized in a swirl of emotion and the dizzying certainty of truth, that the reason I have clutter and the reason it’s so difficult to get rid of it is because I had, at some point allowed these things to define who I was and what it meant my life could be or maybe should be. This was surprising to me. It never occurred to me that I had that much personally and emotionally invested in all this stuff. I had watched numerous decluttering shows with Peter Walsh and read his books and was reading Marie Kondo’s book on tidying, which was the inspiration to start the project. But actually dealing with clutter is different than thinking about clutter. And dealing with years of clutter is different than doing a yearly clean out of your clothes closet. AND, dealing with clutter effectively is different than what we have done most other times and what I think most people end up doing, a glorified ‘sort and organize into new shiny storage systems’ – type of (non) decluttering.
One weekend we had a huge pile of items for goodwill. The logical part of me was happy to see it go, knowing it was no longer going to be taking up room or energy in our home. But as I started scanning the items I could feel myself feeling emotional. Logically I knew that we didn’t need these things, they have been in the dungeon for over 2yrs, not used. But they are items that were still very usable, helped for a time to create the vision of what we wanted for our life and then many of them were physical representations of years of poor buying choices, which is never a good feeling, regret.
I think most people know that the important things about life are not made up by stuff but for most of us, our lives are made up with “stuff” things. As I put a crocheted blanket that was given to my son as a birth gift in a garbage bag, my stomach in knots, I had to remind myself that giving it away didn’t take away from it’s importance or how special it was to us at the time. Fact is, we just can’t keep every. single. thing. ever given to us.
One thing that helped me to understand the power of letting go and to focus on the the memory of the thing, not the thing itself, was that I could not remember who specifically had given it to him. Sadness. But the emotion held by that blanket was part of celebrating his arrival and was a memory that someone loved us very much. It was difficult to stuff it into a garbage bag on it’s way to goodwill but I did it and felt relief.
Along with numerous items related to my current life I also had to deal with my late mother’s belongings. Sifting through memories of my life growing up, her life, things she had hoped for her future, things she had done with my children, books related to projects she was doing or wanted to do. This was by far the most difficult part of this project but it taught me and reminded me about the importance of living in the moment and that the important memories will never be taken away. As an example, I had a small piece of paper on my vanity that had her old address on it that she wrote down for me when she moved – I have it because I don’t want to forget her handwriting or what it looked like…fear. I had to really embrace Marie Kondo’s simple rule of asking myself “does it bring me joy?”. The answer was no, it made me sad to look at it, and there was no way or reason to keep it in a place of honor. I chose to let go of the fear and throw it away finally.
In that split second that day I understood the reason I had been feeling off the last few weeks – because I’m letting go of everything I know. I feel this “unfamilair” feeling because by letting go of all this stuff puts me in a place within myself that is unfamiliar. I don’t know anything but this stuff. Sadly, I realized that there is comfort in what you know, in the clutter.
Also, letting go when you don’t know if that space will be filled with something of equal value is scary, and in that moment I figured that out. Whether the items are serving me anymore or not, I knew them. I knew what they represented, I knew that no matter what I may never gain, whether in material possessions or happiness, I would still have those things, memories, and proof that I have done my best to make a good life…but in that moment, I also realized that because of those things I can’t have the best life, and that’s why they needed to go.
Just becoming aware of the feelings of regret, fear, uncertainty, sadness, and fear of letting made me feel better almost instantaneously. That heavy feeling was gone and I felt like I could resume the task and finish it successfully. It’s not that letting go of the stuff becomes easier – it just becomes a choice of living with stuff and fear, or letting go and believing that something will fill that space, even if it’s only the gift of space. Believing that something new like courage, openness, joy and love will choose to reside here…with everything item I throw out or re-home, I bet on, something new.