Decluttering and letting go

Declutter. Clearing out. Making space. These have been my home activities for the past couple of months. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I decided to do this, but one of the motivating factors was anger.

I got angry looking at the overflowing cabinets and closets with old boxes, half-filled notebooks, random objects, and clothes that don’t fit anymore or have never fit properly. I’ve decided that it’s time to finally get rid of teething spoons and old maternity jeans with stretched belly panels. I’ve become the person who tiptoes out of the house to take bags of donations to Goodwill while the kids stay home with the babysitter. If they catch me by the garage door, it’s all over. They drag the bags inside and sprawl everything on the floor to inspect its contents. Another day. Another day, I think to myself.

I’ve earned a reputation for being the person who is responsible for anything that goes missing at home. Automatically they assume that I trashed, recycled, or donated it. When Elliot is searching for something, he doesn’t ask where it may be but if I had done something to it. He asks, Did you trash it?”  Ellis doesn’t even look for missing toys. She uses this as an opportunity to make me pinky promise her a replacement. Oh, this girl!

Lately I’ve realized from recent conversations with friends, neighbors, and acquaintances that a lot of us are decluttering in one way or another. The desire is there but following through with it is a whole different matter. The following are some personal hindrances I encountered that made the cleaning up process challenging. Maybe you could relate to one or more of them.

  1. First of all, the task was overwhelming, time consuming, and physically tiring. As a result, many times I gave up before even starting.
  2. Second, the “what if” questions kept popping up: what if I find a use for it later; what if I can’t find another one like this; what if it fits me again or comes back into fashion; what if I have to pay full price for this later, etc.
  3. Third, one or more family members, I won’t name names, resisted parting with their belongings.  It’s a delicate issue when it involves family relationships
  4. Lastly, it was hard to let go of the familiar no matter how much I disliked the mess. There was comfort and safety in seeing a bunch of stuff that I used to like.

My first few decluttering attempts frustrated the living lights out of me. As I mentioned earlier, it was primarily motivated by anger; as a result, I threw things away haphazardly. They weren’t productive or pleasant experiences. I needed to give myself time to reflect and to sort through my belongings. There was no deadline; it was all self-imposed so I could change how I approached it.

This newly adopted time frame freed up my attitude towards it. It allowed me the opportunity to pace myself and to celebrate mini successes. Other than time itself, I’ve also learned to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness for having an abundance of things and needing to pare down my belongings.

Henry Walden Thoreau, one of my favorite nineteenth-century American philosopher, writes about the solitary  and freeing life he lived for over two years at Walden Pond. Shunning all worldly possessions, nature became his only companion and teacher.

His journal notes his insights about life:

  • “Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.” (Thoreau, 1991, p. 75)
  • “I love a broad margin to my life.” (Thoreau, 1991, p. 91)
  • “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” (Thoreau, 1991, p. 74)

Unlike Thoreau, it’s not feasible nor do I want to deliberately go into the woods to live intentionally. However, his ideas teach me to refocus my thoughts on the essentials of life rather than pursuing “more” of everything to find contentment.

I’m hoping this is a lifestyle change for me rather than a fleeting experience…

2 thoughts on “Decluttering and letting go

  1. I’ve been working on decluttering too, in preparation for selling our house. I can relate to all of the reasons you list as obstacles. . . I also felt really nostalgic about getting rid of some of my newborn baby things, like the bassinet.

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    1. Decluttering in prep for a move is really hard! I hope that it’s going well and you are not too overwhelmed. Some nostalgic things I am holding onto even though it makes no sense. But I’ve gotten rid of a big box of journal articles that I will never read. Ack, I’m all over the place!

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