Saturday, March 6, 2010

time to clean out the clutter?

Pack Rats run rampant in my family. My mother was one. All her sisters are too. And then there's me. I'm the weirdo who cleans out the closets at least twice a year. I loathe clutter; makes me feel all weighed down and shackled. I'm one of those super-organized gals. The kind that makes my Pack Rat aunts crazy. I use this one rule to keep myself from accumulating too much 'stuff'. The rule is: for every new thing IN, something must GO. This goes for clothing, shoes, furniture and most of the time...books. Those are toughest for me. I love books but a gal only has so much space and I refuse to stash them in closets. If they don't fit on the shelves, they gotta go.

Since the day I left home to strike out on my own, I've moved a dozen times or so. I'm not just talking about moving from one house to another. I'm talking about cross-country moves, state-to-state moves, big moves that required rental trucks and strapping men to hoist the stuff from house to truck to house again. Having done this so many times, I've come to really appreciate traveling light. So my penchant for tidiness and NOT hoarding mountains of stuff has served me well.

Then there are the other 'kind'. The ones, like my aunts, who just can't seem to part with anything. I remember when my parents passed on (within 6 months of each other), my sisters and I had to clean out their home to make way for the next residents. My parents had been married for 40 years. And my mother seemed to have saved every single thing she ever got over those 40 years. We found things we'd made when we were in kindergarten, report cards from the very first to the very last, baby clothes that we'd been baptized in, mounds and mounds of stuff we never knew she had. It took us almost 2 weeks to clean out that house, and we had help from my aunts and cousins and even some neighbors. I'm talking a full-blown staff of folks. It was something to behold.

By the time that happened, I'd been on my own for 10 years. I also happened to be living on the other side of the country so bringing any furniture back with me was pretty much out of the question. Basically I wasn't willing to spend the money to do it, and I didn't really need any of it, so I declined on all counts. I only took a few treasures; mostly stuff I could pack in a box and put on the plane when I flew back to the West Coast. For my aunts, this was a tragedy. They found it hard to believe that my sisters, brother and I weren't going to keep any of the 'stuff' my parents had accumulated over those 40 years. One aunt in particular was quite upset over this. She found it disrespectful. We did not. As gently as I could, I tried to explain to my dear aunt that these were just "things". They had nothing to do with all the love and wonderful memories we shared. Not something a Pack Rat had an easy time with. Eventually she did realize that we weren't dishonoring my parents and years later she confessed that it was a turning point for her. She came to realize just how much her "stuff" represented emotional "stuff". Of course, that didn't necessarily mean she stopped hoarding. But she did get a bit of a handle on it after that. I'm guessing it also helped her tremendously when her husband died and she decided to sell their home and move into a condo. Anyway...

I'm on this today because one of my dearest friends, who is also a Pack Rat, is about to move from the Midwest back to the Pacific Northwest. Third time in less than 4 years. She and her darling husband have been bouncing around for some time. Last go 'round I was the one who dug in and helped them unload a truckload of stuff so they could make the move without having to hire a moving company. It was really hard for her. Not so much for him. He has that attitude of "we can get another one when we need it. Just let it go." He was my greatest ally as we went through their belongings trying to get her to let the stuff go and lighten her load. Now, as they prepare to make this next move, she's at it again. She's going through her stuff with the attitude that "it's just stuff". Aside from her treasured Christmas stuff (and let me tell you, she has enough stuff to open a store!) and her books, she's letting go of lots of things. Again. Bless her pretty heart.

I called this morning to check in on them and see how they were progressing. Knowing how she is, I also know that she will push herself to exhaustion once she gets started on such a task. My phone calls force her to take a few minutes to rest and re-energize. As we were chatting she shared her newly adopted attitude about her things...and how it was so much easier for her this time around. It pleased me to hear the ease in her voice. She's come a long, long way since that first move. Bravo for her.

One of the things she shared with me was her realization that those 'things' were only weighing her down. That each time she filled another box for the Goodwill she could feel more weight lifting off her little shoulders. She said, "It's SO liberating!". I clapped my hands and gave a big shout. SHE'S GOT IT! She's given up her "lack mentality" to make way for a lighter, freer existence. She's finally found the faith to let the stuff go, knowing that what she needs will be provided...when she needs it. She's decided that angels can only fly if they've unloaded their burdens. Gotta love that.

So I share this little missive today in hopes that you, too, will take some time to clean out your clutter. If it seems like a massive undertaking, just do it a little bit at a time. One drawer. One closet. One room. Little by little it'll get easier. Little by little you'll begin to feel your burdens lighten...which will make you want to lighten them even further. And when you're done, you're gonna feel so good you'll want to go buy more stuff. DON'T DO IT! (grin) Try using my little 'rule':

For every new thing IN, something must GO.

It's the most effective way to keep yourself from overloading your life with stuff you really don't need.'ll be able to fly too.

P.S. Don't forget the terrific feeling you'll have when you watch the Goodwill truck drive off with all that stuff. You'll be helping lots of other folks by making your donations. It's MARVELOUS!

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