Decluttering – the Incredible Lightness of Being

Over drinks last Friday I confessed to my two dear friends, H.J. and Carol, that I had thrown away their family-picture Christmas cards. All of them. All that I had saved over the years documenting their family trips, maturing children, new grandbabies, growing grandchildren, etc. That’s right, I had saved their cards for years—heck, for generations—and not just theirs, many other friends’ and family members’ as well. They assured me I had not committed a mortal sin and they had their own copies so I should rid myself of guilt and carry on.
I admit it; I’m a pack rat. Perhaps because my large Irish-Catholic family had so little, I grew up clinging to whatever I had. Perhaps it’s just my personality type because my oldest sister Joyce’s house was always so clean it looked like a model home, which discounts any genetic tendencies. I had saved every card sent for the birth of my three children (I puzzled over far too many names I did not recognize) and greeting cards from my own milestones. I had saved letters from my mother, sisters and brothers some of whom have passed. Precious words that somehow brought them nearer.
In preparation for our imminent move, we have been decluttering, and photos are the hardest to deal with. Rich was brutal and, after taking a peek inside a couple of boxes of his photos, tossed them all. He said it was a former life and he was looking at our future not his past. This inspired me to be more brutal, thus the disposal of my friends’ Christmas cards. This has been a difficult journey for me.
As I began my initial foray into decluttering last fall, my friend Lisa came over to help. We started in the basement with the Christmas closet. While it was hard to part with years of macaroni ornaments fashioned by six-year-old hands and waxed paper stars decorated with glitter at a scout meeting, Lisa convinced me that my kids would cherish some of our favorite Christmas items. Listen carefully: Your kids don’t want your s**t. Sorry to be so brutal, but that’s the fact of the matter. I forced them to take their Pringle’s can Santa Clauses.
I started this journey with the mindset of: “What don’t I want?” When I saw my punchbowl on top shelf of the closet, I murmured, “There’s my punchbowl. Wow, we haven’t used that in years.” Now some of you remember, as I do, a time when there was a punchbowl at every party; it was a standard wedding gift. Lisa pulled it down and started to put it in the “give away” pile. “Lisa, that’s my punchbowl!” I protested as if naming the item should explain everything. “That you haven’t used in years,” she countered as she placed it in the giveaway stack. I knew she was right—time to pass it on to my kids. (See note in bold above.)

That moment was a paradigm shift for me. My mindset shifted from “What don’t I want?” to “What do I want to pay to move?” I began to sort things for our upcoming garage sale with a little more zeal. After months of picking away at closets and cupboards, Rich and I got serious and kicked it into high gear. Clearing out items that had traveled with me for years was grueling: wedding, birthday, congratulatory gifts held emotion that was difficult to shake off, but I knew we would be downsizing, and many things had to go. Slowly my attitude became, “What do I really need?”

While in Barnes and Noble one day, I picked up The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and
by Marie Kondo. Isn’t it funny how a book opens up to a passage you most need to read? The one I read said in effect that possessions come into our lives for a purpose, when that purpose has been fulfilled, give gratitude for it and let it go. She stresses the joy and freedom we feel when we remove the clutter from our lives, and I am finding this to be true. It got to the point where Rich and I would wake up and say, “What can we let go of today?”  As Thoreau said, “…simplify, simplify.”
I still have some boxes of photos to go through (notice they are not neatly labeled in scrapbooks or photo albums) and I know it will take time. But I’m feeling good about how my perspective changed from “I need to save everything.” to “What do I basically need to live with?” When I live with the latter view, what I do surround myself with becomes more meaningful. I find, too, that as I declutter my living space, I also declutter my thinking space. All the energy vibrating within possessions that have outlasted their purpose is taking up the space needed for the energy that will feed my heart and soul.
Is it hard for you to declutter? What is the “punchbowl” in your life that’s difficult to let go?

8 thoughts on “Decluttering – the Incredible Lightness of Being

  1. Great post! I'm in the process of remodeling and will hopefully be decluttering, too. It won't be easy, especially my collection of books. This is at least the 3rd time I've seen that particular book mentioned, so it must be a sign for me to read it!

  2. I love your husbands take on getting rid of his past! It made me smile. I'm pretty good at decluttering nowadays. But I do have one tiny box in attic full of 4 years of my life when I was in the Air Force. I can't help thinking when I'm 90, I will open it and be able to reconnect with the very cool part of me, the way I was before kids and all that came after them.

  3. Betty, you took the words right out of my mouth. It just so happens I woke up this morning and said to myself, "Do we move to Hawaii or stay here?" If we do decide to move, what in the world will we take, and what will we get rid of? A major life-changing decision is upon me. Oh, and I have a huge box with Christmas cards from the past thirty years, and because of this post I've decided to tackle that first, whether we move or not. 🙂

    • Oh my gosh, Deborah! You make me feel so much better LOL Moving to Hawaii sounds divine. Take a swimsuit and sunscreen…really what else to you need? You can get a couple of coconuts and a grass skirt over there.

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