Monsters In The Closet
We've had about 4 days of good spring weather so far this year (and I just looked out the window and found today isn't one of them). You know, days when the sun shines and the birds sing and all those projects I've been putting off all winter suddenly seem worth it and I think I might be able to reclaim my house and my yard and my attitude from the ravages of winter. The sun streams through my dirty windows and I start to see my house with fresh eyes. Gone are the rose colored glasses of Christmastime and the cloudy, sun-deprived lenses of March (I think I may have a touch of SAD, but that's a discussion for another time). The dread of the work ahead of me pales in comparison to the euphoria of organizing and purging one basket, closet, and room at a time until order reigns supreme in every nook and cranny of my little house . . . well, in my mind it does anyway. It never quite works out that way thanks to my three angel faced distractions. But purging and organizing are two of my favorite things to do, and I feel the dark and the rain have deprived me of their company for far too long. I may even put away the winter coats, although I'm honestly afraid that might be a little premature.
I have found that the topic of organization and purging triggers strong emotions. I know people who hear the word 'purge' and they immediately look like a deer in the headlights and I can almost hear them taking mental inventory of their possessions and making a case for why each twist tie in their tool drawer and each piece of high school memorabilia up in the attic is an absolute necessity. I also have a friend who purges so frequently and so ruthlessly that one time her 5 year old daughter, upon seeing a new pair of slippers at the kids' Gap, asked, "Mommy, when you sell my slippers on Craigslist will you buy me these?" One time she threw my family Christmas card in the trash while I was standing right there! (That's my sister-in-law, by the way. She has many many brilliant things to say on the subject of home organization and being a mom, and if you read them your life will be changed. I'm serious.)
I never used to get rid of things. Before our first baby was born, we bought a house with a lot more space than we needed, and we filled it with a lot of things we didn't need. They weren't necessarily expensive things, they were just filler. 3 bathrooms = 3 shower curtains, that sort of thing. We literally had more bathrooms than people. Anyway, after a couple of years of drowning in our mortgage payment, we sold our house and seriously downsized. We moved into a 900 square foot, 3 room (that's total, not bedrooms) cottage with one tiny bathroom. By that time we had 2 babies, and it took me awhile to figure out how to manage the 4 of us in such a small space. I came to realize that purging was my best friend. And I discovered some things about myself and my relationship with my things.
- I didn't always buy things for the right reasons. It's so obvious, I know, but saying it out loud was incredibly freeing. Now, everyone has a unique list of right reasons for buying things, and I have no interest in comparing my reasons to those of someone else. My wrong reasons usually involved guilt, fear, dissatisfaction, discontentment, impulsiveness, etc. It's no surprise that most of those purchases triggered those feelings once I brought them home.
- My stuff was blackmailing me. If you've ever hung onto something because you feel guilty about buying it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. You spent money you didn't have on something that didn't work out, and now instead of getting rid of it you pay penance and beat yourself up every time you look at it. As if every self-accusation has a dollar value and if you make enough of them you will pay back the money you spent.
- Things represent ideas. A bin of crafting supplies represents creativity. Tools represent usefulness and competence and self-sufficiency. A vast collection of lotions and personal care products represents taking care of myself. The trouble is, things can easily become conductors of negative energy. A bin of crafting supplies can grow to represent an unrealized endeavor. Tools can represent all the things that are broken in the house. Personal care products can take over that space under the sink and holler 'Self-indulgent!' at you every time you reach for the hair dryer.
- I kept and stored things that triggered feelings of loss or grief because I couldn't yet process the actual loss or grief. I decided that this is okay. I have a few things that I can't make decisions about. I just keep them. Hopefully someday I will use or display them in a way that is more intentional, but in the meantime I have made peace with the emotions they represent and I know they'll be there when I'm ready.
Overwhelmingly, I realized a lot of my things triggered negative feelings. And I realized I'm in charge of them! If I don't like how I feel when I look at something, I don't have to keep it. I'm the boss of my stuff, and I can tell it what to do!
There are many organization experts with lots of practical tips to help people de-clutter their spaces (Peter Walsh is a personal favorite of mine), but their advice is useless if it doesn't address the emotional power of our things. Our closets can really hide all kinds of monsters like Guilt and Fear and they really do have power over us. It isn't until we face them down and make them behave that tips like the in-out rule (whenever you buy something, get rid of something) will be any use to us.
I have learned to ask 2 questions when I am purging.
- "How do I feel when I look at this?" If I feel sad or guilty or anxious or unsatisfied when I look at something, it's okay for me to get rid of it. It's okay for me to be honest that I made a mistake in buying it. It's okay for me to admit I was trying to find a tangible solution to an intangible problem.
- "Is that how I want to feel?" If the answer is no, I can let it go. I don't owe the world my guilt.
Obviously there are a few exceptions to this rule. But in general, I'm hoping for a tone of peace and joy in my home beneath the surface level of chaos.
If my things don't contribute to that tone, I don't need them. I can get rid of them.
From here, I am free to employ all kinds of practical tools, like the in-out rule. I am free to have things in my life because I genuinely want or need them. And I am free to get to work purging Winter from my house and my mind, one basket at a time.