This past summer, a fire that tore through homes a thousand miles away from me yet too close to home sparked a fire in me. Those fires are out. The damage left behind is unimaginable for some but truly could have been worse for so many others. However, that fire that sparked in me hasn’t gone out yet. Those fires have left in my head a red hot coal lingering like that last bit of the bad guy from Time Bandits. (Don’t touch it, it’s pure evil). That burning ember has kept me thinking about the concepts of evacuation and what it is that is really important. What do you bring with you when you have to leave because your actual life depends on it? What is all of that stuff that you can leave behind when you are forced to? Why do we hold on to so much stuff? Then, Monkey brain grabs me and I remember the book about getting rid of clutter that I said I was going to read…like years ago.
I think it is time to attempt “The Magic of Tidying Up” (a real book that I honestly haven’t even read) and the simple premise of it actually scares the shit out of me. I should probably binge watch a few episodes of Hoarders to prepare myself, to make myself ruthlessly get rid of things that I’ve held on to for years, decades. The jeans I will never fit in again because I don’t want to work that hard and I really, really, love butter and wine actually has calories. The 15 copies of school photos of me from my teaching days that I actually hate because my arms look fat to my dysmorphic brain. What about those shoes that are so uncomfortable, they always give me a blister… but they match my hair. The “work” clothes that don’t make me feel happy whatsoever but I still find myself debating the need to go back to that former world I left behind. The fork that I accidentally took from a restaurant that doesn’t match anything else I own. The books and books and books from college through grad school in the BG (before google) days, and from a career I have surrendered, mostly. Trinkets and odds and ends that were in my Grandmother’s house that I hate to dust. Clutter.
I have a memory that somehow creates significant attachment. I truly can attach a memory to anything. Now, it is sounding like I really should watch more Hoarders. But really, I touch the outfit I wore to a dinner twenty years ago that I still have, and remember the evening. (BTW it is a really cool dress that now reminds me somehow of Downton Abbey.) The smell of a book will transport me to far away places, seeing a pair of shoes will remind me of all of the places I was when I wore them. The things that surround us jog our memory, good or bad. So, for me and probably many others, uncluttering, getting rid of stuff you no longer need or actually want can be an emotional un cluttering as well. It can be exhausting to throw away 10 lonely socks. It is exhausting to let go of what no longer serves you even when you know it is time.
The book I haven’t even read calls for you to pick up an item, if it brings you joy then keep it. Supposedly, I mean I didn’t read it really. Everything in your house, touch it. This process sounds completely exhausting, and seemingly very overwhelming to touch literally everything you own. However, this is a process I have gone through countless times. I had to, which is part of why I am reluctant to do so now I think. As far as I can remember I moved 19 times before I was 16 years old. Whether it was the same town to a different apartment, a new city, a new state…19 times (Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown) Always packing or unpacking. So going through everything isn’t foreign, it is familiar and I’m over it.
Except I’m not actually over it. Not yet.
I have a bag of clothes sitting in the hallway by the laundry room that I will never ever wear. I have the absolute intention of taking them to the Good Will (because I can’t just throw them away). I have had that intention forever and the bag grows but it is still there. It sits reminding me that I need to let shit go. Please tell me I am not the only one who does this.
The history nerd in me somehow thinks that my CD’s could be cool to some future generation. I mean, I made some pretty wicked compilation CDs. Um. No. But I really do want to hold on to the Backstreet Boys because I could torture the neighborhood blasting them through the stereo on a Saturday trying to clean out the jeep, and I remember having to listen to that CD taking the kids to school and that makes me happy. So I keep that one, all of them actually. Because what if in the post apocalyptic world there is no Pandora?
The mom in me thinks I am supposed to save every baby thing ever. Every drawing. Every outfit. Every single thing. Not even possible. But, I tried. The labeled boxes in the garage speak to the attempts. At least they are labeled? My kids are both grown, this is starting to seem more ridiculous by the year. Cue Netflix and find an episode of Hoarders.
The Bitch says I’m a horrible person and that if I throw away a gift someone gave me that the person will know and hate me forever. Even if I don’t want it, like ever. Even if I outgrew it or broke part of it. Ridiculous. But I listen to her. It’s even worse if it’s one of my grandmother’s things, but I think that could be partially because I am an only child, only grand child, only great, yeah…the world revolves around me good, bad or ugly.
But, and this is a big but I can not lie…what I have started to understand as an adult (using the term lightly these days) is that in getting rid of stuff, in creating actual space there is lightness that comes from it. A feeling of accomplishment, that defragged sense of order. When the world around you feels extra messy, sometimes it is a relief to exhibit control over something. An environmental meditation of sorts I suppose.
So before I can even think about throwing things away or donating them (eventually) I have to think about and look forward to the lightness that will come from it. A lightness that comes from self imposed order. Otherwise, I just won’t do it. I have to look forward to it, and trick myself into it somehow. I have to convince myself I need that feeling of lightness and accomplishment more than I need the stuff. (Cue the scene from the Jerk here…I just want the stuff…especially the thermos, but a homeless guy stole it from me years ago.)
I am trying to train myself to believe that the feeling of accomplishment, the lightness achieved from that small accomplishment becomes a source of power. I know that feeling powerful, even if it is only perceived is addictive and maybe it would be good to get addicted to self created, constructive power like that.
As a result of my tiny baby step attempts, and little samplings of the taste of that power, I am starting to feel the attraction to lightness the minimalists of the world must already have. The idea that I am no longer buying in to the buying in but rather the pairing down, looking for simplicity and who knows, maybe the sense of power that comes with simplicity because I feel a bit powerless. (That’s a dangerous thought for me somehow.) Maybe I am just craving a sense of order in this crazy world we live in, but I know I’m not alone. I just feel the need to have a hell of a lot less clutter these days.
I read about the lawyers and executives that seemed to have it all and how they have said enough, maybe more accurately, too much. There are entire series and documentaries on Tiny Houses and minimalists. One just can’t have clutter in a tiny house. Appealing. There are internet challenges for wardrobe minimalism encouraging people to realize that nobody notices if you wore the same pants two or three times in a week. Didn’t Einstein do pretty much that, or is that a internet truism? I am starting to believe that simplicity could release my brain power to do something, I don’t know…useful? That could be the power I am searching for.
But, books. The way they feel in your hands when the paper is rough on the edges so you don’t get paper cuts and the texture feels like it would be good water color paper. Imagine a water color flower on one of your favorite passages. That could be magic. The comforting smell of age and wisdom some of them have, the occasional fingerprint of a long ago reader who shared the page. Looking on a shelf and remembering the line that saved your life once. (Street pizza, Catcher in the Rye) Books for the sake of books.
But, the ratty race T-shirt that makes you remember you are strong and that you can finish. What if I find the other T-Rex taco sock? The kitchen drawer full of random tools like an olive pitter. Maybe I really do like having a kitchen full of gadgets I will probably only use once a year, because Thanksgiving is magic and cooking makes me happy. Yes, I really do have enough red lipstick to wear a different one every day for a week at least and I only need one, yeah right.
As slow as this process is, and it is slower than molasses in the winter, it is becoming clearer and clearer. I actually feel like I am a blurry, ice coated, defrosting windshield in winter that you can slowly but surely see through while you sit in your freezing cold car waiting for it to be safe enough to hit the road. Peering just from the edge I can finally see that my clutter, yes it is clutter, is here for a reason. Simply put, at least some of it is here to make me happy. We can hold on to something not because it is useful, but because it makes us happy. Every once in a while knowing what makes you happy is another form of beautiful power. Finding joy in small things is power. Finding a sense of power in whatever it is, is really rare. We should hold on to those moments.
Do I have too much stuff I don’t really need. Yep. I sure do. I doubt I’ll find any magic in cleaning out the closet, or suddenly feel all powerful after dropping off some stuff at the Good Will, but there is only one way to find out.
Time to clean out the clutter, I’ll start with the lonely socks.