How is it possible to get so much satisfaction from clearing stuff out – of the house, the garage, the basement, the closet?
For weeks know, I’ve been doing a ruthless inventory of my home and its contents. I found the umbrella I thought I lost, laughed at a sweater I purchased last year and never wore (I could see why), and imagined how happy someone else might be to give a home to the Ralph Lauren plates (purchased at some sale or other) I never use any more.
Some stuff just goes in the trash: the leaky hose, the old gardening shoes, broken toys, expired spices, the orange scarf — where did I ever get that?
Some stuff I’m just tired of: brocade pillows; books I’ve outgrown; more clothes; endless wicker baskets, old Blake yearbooks.
I realize that I don’t have to document every aspect of my life, even though I’m an historian at heart. So I toss what is too painful to hang on to or too insignificant to have made a difference. Photographs of things that started out well and ended up badly; the jewelry and books given to me by people I want to forget; a box of my beautiful brochures from that era of my life when I thought I might be a corporate speech writer (don’t ask); the broken cradle I loved but my kids don’t want.
I see now how some of my possessions reflect the stages of what I thought was cool at certain times: small silver Victorian-style picture frames; quilt squares and canning jars from my Earth Mother/Laura Ingalls Wilder phase; rolls of flowered wallpaper with black backgrounds when I was in the wallpaper phase (don’t have a strip of it now anywhere); Impressionist prints and many things with “Paris” on them from trips to my favorite place on earth. Probably won’t be able to afford that again….
So out, out, out, all of it!
I try to resist the impulse to judge myself, and the memories accompanying many items. A Buddhist writer that I love named Jack Kornfield says, “Judgments are simply a prerecorded tape that plays through the mind over and over again….To understand the judging mind we need to touch it with a forgiving heart.”
I reach for my forgiving heart when I start the internal blaming: of myself for things I did or didn’t do; of things I tolerated and shouldn’t have or didn’t tolerate long enough; of God for withholding certain opportunities where I know I would have thrived.
Blame and regret are often based on comparisons of yourself to other people: the people who invade our lives with more talent, more money, more beauty, more chances. Comparisons with these people (who I’m fairly sure have their own problems) cause a lot of pain and block gratitude. We can be pretty hard on ourselves. That’s why we need to clean out our thinking and assumptions as well as our desks and closets.
For me, the reward of all this work is newly-discovered space, more room to breathe, and the feeling that I once again have the luxury of redefining myself and figuring out who I am now and what I’m going to do with it.
Kornfield says the goal “is to learn to see with the heart which loves rather than with the mind which compares and defines.”
So I go on with my sorting, trying to stay open to the present and not only the past, learning to love as well as I can in this place, in this phase, at this time. That’s my job now, and perhaps, yours as well.
And by the way, there’s a lot of stuff I’m keeping… I look through it and think I’m the luckiest person on the planet.
See you in church.