March 29. 2015
I’ve convinced myself that a plan to unload something is as good as the actual unloading. I have decided to part with four chairs in my dining room and it’s like I am unloading a huge weight off my shoulders. These four random, mismatched chairs have taken the place of matching chairs. They have served me for a long while, but keeping them has stopped me from having nice chairs. They will go and if it weren’t for the 40 Bag Challenge, I might never have come to this decision.
This Lent, I have taught writing classes. I have cleaned out my medicine chest in the big bathroom, the plastic container collection in the kitchen, my library, my music, my closet, my drawers, my papers, my clothes, my linens, my finances, my desk at work, and my computer files. I have given away hotel shampoos and lotions to the homeless who beg on my trains, my music to my friends, my clothes to an AIDS charity, my books to the library. And I have learned so much I never thought would be part of this exercise.
I’ve always prided myself in the knowledge that I do know what is important. It’s people and places, rarely things. One of the reasons I write books is that I want to keep my stories without keeping all the clutter. I read today that millennials keep very little. They don’t want their parents’ stuff. If it’s not on their hard drive, their iPhone, or a piece of plastic, it’s not important. I am coming around to that realization myself, but there is tremendous comfort in things that cannot be gained by reading a screen. And it’s that very comfort that I do not want to lose in my desire to de-clutter my life.
In face, I prefer shopping for plane tickets to shopping for things. I have to need something to buy something – I don’t go to the mall to shop. And yet, as I was looking through my notes from art history classes or copies of newspapers I edited years ago, I smiled. I felt comforted by my things. I think that’s why people who survive terrible weather events or fires are photographed crying because they lost their things. It’s not the thing, it’s that feeling of comfort, the feeling of connection to an event that the photograph captured, the memories of the vacation where you bought the necklace, the ring, the bracelet, or the scarf.
So I did make amazing progress to a more de-cluttered life. I have space now to put my things away and I know, pretty much, where everything is. And that in itself is comforting. For possibly the very first time in my life, I have also felt a connection to the season of Lent. I knew when Palm Sunday was – that always sneaked up on me before. And I certainly know when Easter will be – I’m teaching that day. I’m helping some lovely people connect with their family stories in a way that allows them to be able to write about them.
But I have also confronted my real need to keep some things and let others go – as I need. The most interesting by-product was finding out how keeping much of my day-to-day stuff was stopping me from having nice happy things. I had useful things so I didn’t have the justification for nice things. If I had empty plastic containers from the Chinese take-out place, how could I justify buying Rubbermaid or Tupperware containers? I had hand-me-down sheets and towels and they didn’t match. They did the job, but they weren’t fun or wonderful. Now that I have been able to divest myself of these items – including the dining room chairs that will go next – I have the freedom to surround myself with nice things. I can have nice things – that’s what I learned. I don’t need MORE things or expensive things, but I deserve nice things.
I will be wrapping this up for the next week – more letting go, more sorting and organizing, more putting things away. This is my new normal.