manifest abundance

A shift: physical clutter

This post is the fourth in a series of posts about my experience working through Charity Craig’s Manifest Abundance 60 Day Challenge.  This particular post is about getting rid of clutter. Here are the posts in order:  #1, #2, #3.

In one of my early EfM seminars, my mentor talked about moments in people’s lives when there is a major shift, something seismic, even catastrophic, that changes the course of someone’s life in a way that she remembers forever. Some of these shifts are obvious–the birth of a baby, a major career change, a cross-country move–but some are noticed only by the people who live them.

In March of last year, I felt the start of one such shift.

I’ve become a big fan of the new year, using it as an opportunity to reflect on what is and isn’t working in my life, and I enjoy settling in for the holidays with one eye ahead on what is to come in the new year. I’m sure none of my goals are groundbreaking–most of them involve reading more and creating better systems for managing my house–but they’re worthwhile and they truly help me to be more efficient in the tasks I have to do, leaving me more margin for enjoying what I want to do. 
And if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I feel strongly about not cramming my home with stuff I have to manage, and I’m constantly learning how little I can have without feeling like I’m lacking anything.

So why on earth did I suddenly have a shift related to stuff? Wasn’t I already doing well? Didn’t I already get it?

Well, several things happened. First, a blog I read at the time talked about claiming minimalism and the positive effects, so I did what I always do and checked out every library book about minimalism. Like a crazy person.
I also followed @thelaminimalist on Instagram and spent about 45 minutes just reading her Instagram posts. Something about the way she described stuff and our relationship with stuff just struck a chord with me, so much so that I put down my phone, filled a box with kitchen items, then went through every book in the house and put two thirds of them at the front door to donate to the library book sale.

Two thirds. Two thirds of my books. And I’d culled the books numerous times before and was convinced I was down to The Books I Must Own and Have Good Reasons to Own.

Around the start of 2019, my toddler dropped his nap, not only leaving me with a precious two hours between his bedtime and mine to do all the things, but also opening up opportunities for us to have daily adventures that weren’t limited by his nap. And I realized those kinds of adventures were what I wanted to be doing with my days, that they were the whole reason I wanted to stay at home for these years in the first place, and that I didn’t want to lose the freedom of having to be home for naptime by still being chained to the stuff-wrangling tasks I used to complete during naptime. And goodness knows I didn’t have the energy for much during those two evening hours.

I started spending every free moment going through every cubic inch of this place–every cabinet, every closet, every drawer, every neatly arranged / well-organized / already cleaned out organizational bin under our roof . . . and I just kept packing up stuff we didn’t need.

I tried to keep track of how many carloads I dropped off at the Salvation Army, but I lost count. It started becoming an almost weekly event. I can’t even remember what was back there anymore.

In the midst of all, I happened to check in on my all-time favorite blog, A Small Notebook. It was the first blog I’d ever read; in fact, I remember calling it “this website where she kind of writes articles about what she’s doing,” and my then-boyfriend, now-husband taught me the word blog. I have read every post numerous times, referring back to the way Rachel described some element of how we manage stuff or one of her wardrobe guides, and it was always the blog I read first back when we all had and loved Google Reader.

By the time Google Reader no longer existed, I read so few blogs that I never bothered to find a new way to keep track of them; I simply checked each blog on my phone periodically. Rachel’s last post had been months before, when she updated readers that she’d been caring for her mother, who had dementia, and was diagnosed with breast cancer right after her mother’s death. 

There was something on Small Notebook I wanted to refer back to yet again, so I typed in the address and was immediately met with the news that Rachel had died.

It felt like the air had been sucked from my lungs. She was 41. Her kids were 12 and 9. She had died.

I had that weird type of grief I think we’ve all come to know, the one we have thanks to the internet, where we feel as though we get to know someone without ever having met them, without them knowing us personally, and then we aren’t sure what to do with it. Rachel had always felt like a friend, like a wise older sister who was a few steps ahead of me on her journey and shared what she’d learned through experience, but she wasn’t actually, of course. So I just kind of sat with that odd grief for a while and emerged mainly wondering how best to use it.

In one of Rachel’s posts, one that I remember so well I can recite parts of it,  she talked about how she and her closest college friends would meet at a taco place close to campus and unpack it all together: families, boyfriends, classes, changing majors, future plans, all of the topics on college students’ minds. And she said that not a single one of them ever said, “I hope one day to have a big house and fill it with stuff.” She’d often return to those conversations in her mind as a reminder of everything she’d hoped and dreamed about for her own adulthood because it is so easy to get lost in the emails and dishes and laundry and forget that we are living our actual lives right now.

After that, everything I’d learned from Rachel sat differently with me. No longer could I look to her as an example of what was around the bend for me in my own life as my own child got older; instead, I reflected on how much she’d been able to make of her own adulthood, despite its being cut short, because she’d been able to live those years fully, not weighted down by clutter or wasting the precious little time she’d had managing stuff. And something in me changed, something related to myself and my stuff and the time I was wasting managing it.

Then, of course, I walked through the fires of IVF and a global pandemic and somehow  landed in the midst of Charity’s 60 day challenge. As I narrowed down my intention for my life, as I devoted time to what I really want my remaining years on this Earth to look like, it became even clearer what to let go of and what to welcome. The physical stuff, yes, the stuff that could be packed up and donated, but also the stuff that dominated my time: the hobbies, the mundane tasks, the apps on my homescreen, sitting there so temptingly.

I can now say with certainty that I finished cleaning out my house. All we have left is what we love and need right now and a few truly special sentimental things. We’re officially in maintenance mode; I have a strong eye on what comes in, and we’re in a good place to continue letting go of items as the time comes. Ah, maintenance mode. It feels really good.

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