For most of my adult life I’ve practiced the art of “de-junking” to one extent or another, but in the last few years my interest has really picked up, as evidenced by multiple photos I’ve taken of all the stuff that’s gone out of the house. I take the photos for tax purposes, but whenever I look at them, it simply amazes me how much excess stuff I’ve been able to eliminate from my life. And what’s even more amazing…I don’t really miss any of it.
It also makes me wonder: how is it that a person like me, so intent on de-junking and simplifying her life, continues, year after year, to be able to fill so many bags and boxes for “Goodwill”? I remember several times letting go of a bunch of stuff and thinking, “Well, that’s it. There’s no way I could possibly find anything more to get rid of.” But then a few weeks or months later…there I go again! It just keeps coming out of the woodwork.
Sometimes I have to wonder, at the same time that I’m sending massive amount of stuff out of my life through the front door, am I also secretly bringing more useless and frivolous stuff in through the back door? Or, as time goes on and my “de-junking muscles” grow stronger and stronger, am I now just more emotionally able to let go of stuff to which I previously felt a much stronger attachment?
I think it’s a little bit of both.
The good news is that as I’ve become more able to let go of stuff, I’ve recently made a commitment to stop purchasing quite so much. For instance, I can’t think of the last time I stopped at a yard sale, and I now only visit thrift stores when I’m on vacation, partly because I see it as a traditional social activity to enjoy with my daughter or sister (and I must admit, I’ve picked up a number of nice items this way). However, when thrifting far from home, it helps to know that I have limited space in my suitcase, so I can’t really overdo it.
Now, after Mom died in January 2016, I made several trips to South Florida to see my dad, and each time I came back with quite a bit of sentimental stuff that was my mom’s. I probably took more than I should have, as I was just trying to hold on to her. Every item seemed infused with meaning, even though it may not have been particularly valuable. Since then, I’ve been able to let go of a completely ordinary letter opener from her desk, and some decorative little pill cases that don’t really stay closed very well. But I’m keeping the porcupine pen holder/pencil sharpener, which I think may have originally belonged to me, maybe twenty or thirty years ago.
Right now, though, I’m struggling with some lace curtains. Mom always loved to decorate in what I call “cottage style,” which includes white furniture, and lots of bright pastel fabrics, and of course lace curtains. Nobody else wanted these panels upon panels of white lace curtains, so I stuffed them in my suitcase, even though I really don’t have anywhere in my house to put them.
There’s a thought in the back of my mind that someday when we move to our next house, in five to ten years from now, I may have windows that will need lace curtains. So, should I just keep them packed away for the next five to ten years because maybe they’ll be of use? Isn’t that really a terrible waste of perfectly good curtains? Wouldn’t Mom prefer it if I donated them to a thrift store so somebody else could hang these curtains and enjoy them? In the future, if I want to honor Mom, and my new house needs lace curtains, I can always go to the store and buy new ones. I can honor her with the idea of lace curtains. They don’t have to be the exact same curtains, do they?
So maybe now, after writing all this out, ,maybe next time I clean out the closet in the front room, I can muster up the emotional strength to say goodbye to these curtains.
But I feel I’ve gotten a little bit off track here, because what I really wanted to talk about is how my world is getting smaller, and how much I like that. With all the de-junking I’ve been doing lately, I am almost able to feel a difference in the house, as if the house itself is beginning to draw in a deep sigh of contented relief, but hasn’t yet completely released that sigh. You know that feeling when the season is about to change, and you get that first little tingle of something different in the air, like an invisible burst of energy? It’s not there yet, but somehow you know a change is coming. It’s like that. I know a change is coming, though I doubt anyone else walking into my house would be able to sense it quite yet.
Some big things are gone…like the treadmill we never used. Some smaller things too… clothes that didn’t fit well, a purse or two, excessive drinking glasses and wicker baskets. The absence of some of these things maybe could be detected by an observant eye, but the biggest change I’m making right now is in my files, my paperwork.
We recently bought a portable scanner and I’ve been going to town with that thing almost every night, turning pages upon pages into neat little PDF files on my computer. Altogether, all these pieces of paper (some up to forty five years old!) probably took up less than a couple dozen inches of shelf space, but with this project, for me, it’s not just about clearing the physical space in the real world, it’s more about my mental clarity.
First of all, it’s been a blast revisiting my past by reading term papers I wrote in high school, letters my brothers sent me when I was in college, reviewing all the useless certificates I accumulated during my long and undistinguished academic career and beyond. Stories I wrote…and notes for stories I never wrote, but might someday. Just digging all this stuff out of my files and looking at it again has really helped me re-connect with who I was…and who, in many ways, I still am.
But in addition to all that, I’m getting such great satisfaction in seeing all these documents pile up next to each other in my computer! They say that of all the papers you cram into a file cabinet, you’ll probably never look at 80% of them ever again. And that may be so. But it now feels so wonderful to know exactly where those documents are, taking up NO room in the physical world, yet ready to spring back to life with only a few clicks, should I ever want to see them again.
And in the meantime, hundreds upon hundreds of pieces of paper are going out of my life forever. Part of what I’m doing in all this de-junking is preparing us for a smooth move to our retirement home in five to ten years from now. All those papers will not be taking up any space in our moving van! The computers and portable hard drives will come with us of course, but they were coming with us anyway. And they aren’t any heavier to carry due to the added chronicles of my entire life.
But it’s more than that. Let me get back to that idea of “mental clarity.” There’s this thing I do whenever I travel and it comes time to pack up to go home. I begin moving all my stuff geographically into one central location. Everything from the bathroom goes into its traveling bag, which goes on the bed. Everything in the drawers goes on the bed. Pretty soon, if it’s not on the bed, I don’t even have to think about it. My world has gotten smaller and smaller, and I am focused on my smaller world, so I can now function and complete my required task with a high degree of certainly that I will get it all done completely and correctly.
Focus is vital.
Having all my “Papers” in one computer—rather than in files and piles and binders all over the house—makes me feel FOCUSED. Now I KNOW where everything is and can find whatever I need at a moment’s notice. And that feels terrific!
Does that make me a Control Freak? If so, so be it. Gaining a greater sense of control in a world gone out of control helps me feel more centered and more certain. And it certainly makes me feel calmer. I need these clearly defined boundaries between my own stuff and my own responsibilities…and everything else in the world, over which I have absolutely no control.
So…yea, organization! Yea, focus! Yea, a sense of conquest over the physical world! I know that I am not my Things, but some Things have importance and significance for me, so I will keep them, and keep them well. Knowing what those Things are, and where they are, in my mind replaces Chaos with Focus.
A Focused World is a very small world. So yeah…I live in a very small world. But that’s okay, because I like it here.