Real Decluttering

Amongst the many calls for transformation in January, we hear the call to get more organized – to declutter.

Now, let me first say that this suggestion finds purchase with me. We are a family of stuff. I often joke that I live with three hoarders. And I am nowhere near monastic in my relationship with stuff, I am simply more willing to give some of it up when things get too crowded.

At any rate, the short version of the logic behind decluttering as organization is simply this: once you have too much stuff for your space, no amount of organizing will suffice. You will always be fighting the tide – and losing, which is what happens when we fight the tide, by the way.

I am sympathetic to the simple truth of that idea. Perhaps it appeals to me so much because I live with three hoarders.

book-collection-education-159751Once you have too much stuff for your space, no matter how much Tetris you play with it, no matter how many pretty containers you try to sort it into, it just won’t fit and it certainly won’t fit neatly or in a way that is pleasing to the eye or soothing to the soul.

So, the natural answer seems to be to begin a process of getting rid of some of the excess.

There are people who have made their entire careers out of helping people actually DO this work.

There is an industry – and a very full one I’d like to add – that helps people find ways to approach and re-organize their stuff.

As this desire takes hold as part of the New Years’ promise of better ways and better days, I see a criticism of the declutter movement that I had felt but not heard before.

This argument centers around the idea that this entire problem is on that only people of adequate privilege have. And further that the approach of getting rid of things that you’ve already paid for and could, at least in theory, use again, is but a further demonstration of that privilege.

I see the logic there.

AND

I know that when I had less – when my economic privilege was decidedly less, I still had things that I didn’t want or need. I still had a hard time organizing those things as my spaces were also smaller, my containers nonexistent or of the cardboard box from the liquor store variety.

In short, I think it is possible to have a clutter problem without being rich or spoiled.

Why do I think that is possible?

I think it’s possible because our culture encourages the satisfaction of the soul by way of accumulation.

NOW, before I say more about that, let me be clear that I am not about to equate stuff or the wanting or getting of stuff with sin. I think that it is perfectly possible to have a lot (or even just slightly more than enough) of stuff and have it out of sheer pleasure or need or more likely a combination of both.

I do not think it is morally wrong to either want or get stuff.

What I do think is that for many of us, the getting of the stuff is a misguided attempt to fill much deeper needs AND that using stuff in this way means that we will never actually have enough AND that we will therefore face this decluttering task on an ongoing basis.

Singer-songwriter David Wilcox has a line I think I’ve quoted before: “When you lay your dreams to rest, you can get what’s second best, but it’s hard to get enough.”

We cannot get enough stuff to convince us we are enough as people.

We cannot get enough stuff for our children to prove our goodness as parents or ensure their success in the world.

We cannot get enough stuff to make up for jobs that make us miserable.

We cannot get enough stuff to stem the loneliness of untended or one-sided relationships.

We cannot get enough stuff to generate a feeling of connection, the magic antidote to addiction.

Stuff cannot fill the holes of the soul. The holes of the soul require deeper work than shopping and organizing.

The way to approach that deeper work in a lasting way isn’t just to surrender our excess stuff, but to declutter our minds, our hearts, our calendars.

The way to address the holes of the soul is to apply the same level of honesty about the stuff that all of the experts recommend (Is it serving me? Does it still fit? Is it just here because someone else gave it to me?) to our thoughts, to our habits, and to our choices so that we can choose better:

So that we can look at the thoughts of not-enoughness and recognize how they play out. So we can challenge them and attempt to move toward a peace of self-affection and assurance.

So that we can assess our situations at work and see the part we play in creating our own dissatisfaction and can either change our outlook and approach or get real about reconsidering what we do or where we are doing that work.

So that we can have the time to tend to our relationships and see the ways that we contribute to their meagerness.

So that we can find the courage to move into the world with enough vulnerability to actually truly connect and to offer that same connection without so much need attached to it.

So declutter your physical space as you like.

I get that urge too, and for the way I am wired, a less full visual plane is a good thing. But don’t stop with that clear out. Watch what happens in your world of stuff AFTER that process. Notice if more stuff is coming in. See yourself replacing that clutter.

beach-bracelet-daylight-723501Perhaps more importantly, notice what happens to your relationship with your stuff if you take the plunge on a deeper kind of decluttering. See how much easier it is to not need and want so much when you begin to see, to acknowledge, to comfort and to heal the holes that act as vacuum for all of that stuff in the first place.

See how much easier it is to release things that no longer serve.

See how much easier it is to create a life full of things, people, and experiences that spark TRUE joy.

Make Room

I am hearing it as a clarion call this morning: “Make room.”

I have been making room in my mind – through clearing out old thoughts, adding spiritual practices that encourage a peaceful, and sort of minimalist outlook.

This call is, I think, one to make room in my heart and in my home.

What is taking up space in my heart and in my home? Old junk, old junk that doesn’t serve me anymore.

Now just to be clear – that stuff that’s taking up the space, it wasn’t always junk. It was hurt because of loss. It was anger at the violation of a boundary. It was a gorgeous dress that fit just right and was needed for a wedding. It was fabulous shoes for non-arthritic feet. It was facial and skin products for younger face and skin. It was all either necessary as a signal from my soul or wonderful and helpful for the rest of me at some point (well, okay, except for the occasional bad purchase, but I think that goes without saying). By saying it’s junk now I am not categorizing it as junk eternally and shaming myself for having it. I am not judging myself for having this heart and space junk. I am simply recognizing it for what it is.

art-blur-close-up-580631How do I know it’s junk? I know it’s junk in my heart if it keeps rearing up and getting all mixed up with current problems. I know it’s junk in my heart if it escalates other hurts and tries to make me create bigger arguments out of small ones. I know it’s junk if I don’t really want to look at it, but I can feel it. I know it’s junk when it feels old, heavy, and like something I thought I’d dealt with before. I know it’s junk in my heart if increasing maturity has helped me to recognize that the problem that junk came from was never really mine to begin with (don’t worry if that sounds alien, it will come).

I know it’s junk in my space if it makes getting to the things I’m looking for difficult. I know it’s junk in my space if it’s gathering dust from disuse and disinterest. I know it’s junk in my space if I feel bad when I look at it either because I’m judging myself for acquiring it or judging myself for not making use of it or judging myself because it no longer fits, helps, or serves me. I know it’s junk in my space if it keeps surfacing with no real purpose, asking me to get rid of it and get on with things.

And friends, I’ve got a lot of junk.

There was a time I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see the individual pieces. I couldn’t see the contours because there was so much that it just took on immense proportions. I had so much old hurt in my heart that addressing any piece of it felt like a way to open a Pandora’s Box full of gut-wrenching devastation. But slowly, I found some edges. I was able to identify some pieces. I could start to get purchase – find a hand or foothold so I could move forward with just a little bit of it. I could heal those old hurts… but first I had to feel them.

I had to stop stuffing them in a closet because they were inappropriate, inconvenient or just too big to handle. I had to stop ignoring them because I had things to do, people to attend to, piles of laundry – ANYTHING to not actually feel. I had to stop deciding that I couldn’t handle feeling my own pain. I had to learn that I, in fact, CAN deal with how I feel and that when I do that, I actually feel better. You see allowing some of that stuff out of that closet lets all of the other stuff shift a little and suddenly it’s not a mountain of pain, but a structure built of individual bricks and stones that can be dealt with in pieces. The important thing here is that it’s not a one shot deal. No matter how much you deal with these things, well human experience says there will be more and if you don’t deal with those, they will become junk.

What do I do when I know I’ve got heart junk? Well, after I admit it to myself, which can take a very long time, I actually set aside some time. I make an appointment with myself to feel it. I know that sounds nutty, but that way I can deal with it when I feel most safe to do so – when I am alone, when it is peaceful, when I don’t feel like my reaction to that pain will spill over onto the little empaths in the house. They can see me in pain, but they don’t need to see it all of the time. It is mine to feel when I am ready and to share as I wish.

What do I do when I’ve got space junk? I ignore it for a long time. LOL. I wish this were not true, but it is. And then when I can’t take it anymore, when I feel like the stuff is starting to be the master of the house, I whip out bags and boxes. You know it: donate, trash, gift/rehome, put away. And I try to be really honest about those categories. I am a firm believer in reusing and repurposing, but some things really are just done.

abstract-blur-bubble-612341Just like in my heart, some things really are just done. I don’t need to give them to someone else. I don’t need to reuse them for current problems. It’s time to feel it and imagine that the water from the shower is washing it off of me. It’s time to say out loud: “I now release this pain and seek healing for me and for anyone else involved in it.” It’s time to get rid of the junk. It’s time to make space.

 

On Becoming a Curator Of My Life

There are two separate processes in the BARE program where the focus of the work is to let go of things which 1) no longer serve us or 2) actively deplete us mentally or physically. This can be a surprisingly difficult task. We hold on to so much, I suppose in an attempt to maintain stability, to convince ourselves that we are okay because of sameness, to ensure ourselves that while the whole world is changing at a million miles a minute, we are standing on solid ground.

This work was difficult for me. I didn’t want to evaluate the things in my home, even though I could sense that their number was too great for my sense of well-being. I didn’t want to evaluate my time commitments and my relationships to see if they were more than draining. I REALLY didn’t want to go into my closet and be honest about what clothes didn’t fit and which I didn’t like and probably shouldn’t have bought in the first place (the self-judgment about wasting money is perhaps the most fun part). I didn’t want to do any of that, but I did, and it paid off in spades. How?

declutteringMy stress level went down as I became a curator of the things in my environment rather than just an acceptor of all things. My stress level decreased as I became more honest about the amount of time I wanted to spend on various pursuits and in various relationships. My happiness and confidence went up as I got rid of clothes that made me feel dumpy and as stained as a toddler Mom and replaced them with clothes that made me feel my best, helped me express how I WANT to look, not just what’s in my closet. Letting go of that which no longer served in my physical world has been a game changer.

The interesting thing is that performing those purges has helped to create a mindset that has made me a more careful consumer, planner, and doler-outer of my time. I really have begun to curate my experiences. I have begun to question how I’m spending my time and what I’m getting for it. And I’m making some changes that will exchange unpleasant time for time that will satisfy me.

And here I come to the issue of my garden… not my garden as in English garden with flowers and such, but my vegetable garden. We moved into this house 10 years ago and I have attempted to grow vegetables every year since (although I should note that if you are an aspiring gardener, buying a house in a neighborhood that has street names with “Slate Hill” in them is probably not a great move). We have had a few good years. Even those years, however, did not produce as much as they SHOULD have based on the amount of effort required. Why?

Our yard backs up to a protected woods that has a creek running through it. It is a magical place that we explore with the kids. We find critters, we wade, we take long walks and make up stories about what goes on at night. That woods backs up to a very large county park, which connects to other parks in our fairly rural and wooded county. What does all of this mean, other than that we live in a beautiful spot (which we really, really do)? It means our yard is part of a vast wildlife highway. We have groundhogs; we have rabbits; we have squirrels; we have even had a black bear. And the deer, please don’t get me started on the deer. I know all of you gardeners out there are chomping at the bit to give me advice on how to keep them out. Whatever you’re about to say, short of enclosing the whole thing in chain link fencing including a roof, which would be the only way to keep the squirrels from stealing my tomatoes, we’ve tried it. We’ve done everything short of shooting and poisoning them, which I’m not willing to do. For everything I grow in my garden, assuming the plants thrive, we might get 20% of the harvest. And I haven’t even talked about the bugs.

Being near the creek makes us a prime target for SO many pests. And again, short of spraying things that I’m not comfortable eating, we’ve tried it. We’ve tried it all and I am weary. I am tired of being disappointed when I go out to tend to my garden. This is not the experience I had in mind. There has been little fulfillment in the whole operation, and so I have decided that this year will be my last in carrying out this size of effort (I have a big garden). I haven’t yet decided if I will simply make a much smaller garden of things that do well here or stop the enterprise altogether. I do know that some flowering plants would make a nice addition to part of the yard that the garden covers up. That would feel good to me. And that’s the thing, right? These chores we assign ourselves should get us SOMETHING we feel good about, right? I am going to curate my yard so I can be in it and feel GOOD instead of disappointed or like I am a rotten gardener. I want to enjoy my space. I get to decide how to spend my time and what kind of results I want.

declutteringWhat part of your life could use a little curating? What are you accepting that is not yours? What are you committing to that is draining you? What used to be fun and now is, well, not? What’s in your closet? If you need a personal guide who can teach you how to be a better curator, I’d love to help.