Like most of us who are in midlife, we’ve accumulated lots of “stuff”. When was the last time you examined everything in your home; not just the closets, but the garage, the cabinets, the boxes that hadn’t been open since your last move?
Well I did this summer. The last weekend in May, Dallas experienced torrential rainstorms. I woke up in the middle of the night and saw streams of water gushing through my house. Later that day, a disaster recovery company packed our entire household to go into storage until the home repairs were completed.
Six weeks later, they returned with over 100 boxes and all our furniture. The good news: Since the water was only a couple of inches, most of our things were salvageable. The bad news was we had to unpack all those boxes and put things back in place. I dreaded it… it seemed so overwhelming.
Then something interesting happened!
I found stuff that I hadn’t seen in years. Instead of immediately putting these things away, I took the time to relish what I remembered about them. I discovered papers and pictures that brought both tears and smiles. For example, there was a letter from my mother-in-law to my mother on the birth of their first grandchild – our oldest daughter.
I also found a notebook of my speeches for a Toastmasters group when I lived in Stavanger Norway. My ice-breaker speech was an identity box with objects that represented who I was then as a person. It made me pause and ask myself who am I today? Am I different than the person I was twenty five years ago? What has changed in my life?
I realized how much stuff my family had accumulated over the years. Some were mementoes from the years we lived overseas and traveled. That was what I would call the “important stuff”. But there was also the stuff that I asked myself, “Why in the world am I keeping this?”
Instead of putting these things back on the shelves or in the closet or garage where they had been, I decided to “declutter” – to shed stuff I no longer needed or wanted. It turned out to be an easier process then I imagined. In fact, it was liberating as I filled one big black plastic bag after another. And it gave me more space –hopefully not to be filled up again with new stuff.
For the stuff I was keeping, I had to decide whether to place things back where they had been situated or to change things around. Did I want the rooms to stay the way they were before the flood or to have a new look? Could the furniture be rearranged? What about the books and knickknacks on the on the shelves? How about organizing my closets differently?
This gave me the opportunity to bring newness to my home without the expense of extensive remodeling. For example, changing the placement of pictures in the living room and adding some plants gave it a whole new feel. I then started to think if there are things I need to rearrange in my life.
What will bring it freshness – a new sense of jest and joy?
I’m still in the process of figuring that out. However, one area that I realized is weighing me down, are the professional and civic volunteer commitments I’ve made. What I enthusiastically said yes to five years ago or even last year, may not be a key priority for me today. I don’t necessarily want to shed these obligations but rather re-arrange my responsibilities to get freshness back in my life.
Finally I’ve realized that de-cluttering is a continual process. That’s because one’s life will always be changing – whether we want it to or not. So don’t wait for a flood or other catastrophe to examine your life and decide how you want to live it. To get a less stressed more balanced life, regularly ask yourself these questions:
- Am I different than the person I was twenty five years ago? What has changed in my life?
- What’s the “important stuff” in my life? What am I keeping I no longer need or want?
- How can I re-arrange my life to bring it freshness – a new sense of jest and joy?