What is your relationship to clutter?
Clutter isn’t just about what’s stuffed into corners of your bookshelves, or trampled on the floor of your closed. It’s not only about organizing drawers or giving the garage a super-good clean out. Really, that kind of physical clutter is pretty simple to deal with. You either get rid of it, or you shove it away.
It’s the ‘clutter-be-gone’ mindset that I’ve always found much more challenging. The ‘clutter-be-gone’ mindset is haunting me now that there’s just two of us living in this house created for four.
I have plenty of ‘belongings’, to be sure. Just ask my kids about all the sizes of diapers I kept (unused, of course) or the various locks of hair, baby socks, art projects, cute notes, Lego sculptures…you get the idea. I read Julie Morgenstern’s book Organizing From The Inside Out a long time ago (it was published in 1998!). At the time, I was struggling with the idea of keeping a home organized now that two babies had moved in. When I read, “Being organized has less to do with the way an environment looks than how effectively it functions. If a person can find what he or she needs when he or she needs it, feels unencumbered in achieving his or her goals, and is happy in his or her space, then that person is well organized.”
That was so liberating for me!
My sentimental nature would obviously lead me to keep more than the average mom, but according to Julie, that’s OK!
So I cruised along, trying to keep up with photo albums (the analog kind), journals, school report cards, samples of my kids’ writing, birthday cards…. high school graduation cards…college acceptance letters…college graduation announcements…until suddenly, the nest is empty but the rooms are still full and then, gradually at first but then with an urgency building up like a thundercloud, the ‘clutter-be-gone’ mindset is a reality.
There’s no more reason to keep all those Christmas and Valentine’s and Easter decorations, is there? No one’s around to see them. It’s easier if they just stay packed away, along with the memories of when little hands and sticky faces used to reach with trepidation, hoping to grasp the essence of what those days meant to them…
So for my husband’s 52nd birthday, I got him a storage space.
Despite this going against all my de-cluttering tendencies, Julie’s words rang in my ears. You can get it organized, I heard her say. Put the furniture you’ve been saving for the kids in there, clear up space in the garage and create some flow, I imagined her commenting. So I did it, and now the flow should run freely – right?
I’m finding it’s not so easy, that de-cluttering comes in fits and bursts, at just the right time to fill up sacks of worn out linens and kitchen gadgets long since forgotten. It comes, sometimes, with a burst of tears and finishes with collapsing on the bed with a box of cassette tapes from the 1980s, memories banging cacophonously against reality.
There are some days (many days) when I just can’t handle the thought of those moments flooding into today; just the downpour of what was, what I can’t control, what’s not yet happened and maybe never will is more than I can handle on even endless servings of my favorite Sumatra blend.
“Being organized has less to do with the way an environment looks than how effectively it functions,”
I hear her whispering to me. How does it actually function for me these days? How do the memories (aka clutter) fill my mind? Do they keep me from moving forward, or do they PUSH me towards everything I’ve been preparing for the last 53 years?
I think to me, putting yourself in the ‘clutter-be-gone’ mindset means putting on your oxygen mask first. Practicing deep self-care. Spending time in nature, gazing out the window into an oncoming thunderstorm (literal or figurative) or snuggling up with your old dog and gently stroking his ears while he wiggles with pleasure. It means tucking away the memories (literal and figurative) into places in my heart and home where they can lift me up, comfort me, motivate me, and be there to draw on for inspiration moving forward.
In the end, I think I’m OK with my clutter right now. Maybe my kids will be OK with it, too.