The phone rings. It’s a face-time call from my daughter Julie.
As I slide my finger over the pulsating arrow, a broken angel comes into view.
I say, “oh no, did this one end up in a squabble too?”
“Mom, are you attached to this angel?”
It’s been living on my mantle for about twenty years. Part of the wing is missing, the kids broke it when Larry and I were out one evening, I adjusted the way it sat on the mantel so no one could tell, especially if you didn’t look too closely.
I say, “well yes, she’s been with me forever, and she’s beautiful.”
“Mom, you have her sitting in fake snow, under a glass dome, it’s tacky.”
“We’re decluttering your house while you and Aunt Nan are up at the lake.”
“What? Don’t throw her away, I can put her in the garden.”
“Mom, you’re a hoarder. Gotta go, I have a meeting.”
She hangs up.
This week I’m up at the lake with my sister Nancy and niece Mackenzie, with Nancy’s current work schedule we found some time mid-week to get out of town, and celebrate Mackenzie’s birthday. We usually do it closer to Kenzie’s real birthday in July but this year has been anything but normal.
Shockingly this anything but normal situation will play out in the most peculiar way this week. Apparently, I needed to be Kondoed* and I didn’t have a clue?
I look at my sister who is giggling, I say, “they called me a hoarder?”
She says, “How can they declutter your house when you’re not there? Should we start packing the car?” Mind you we only arrived yesterday.
“No, I don’t want to get in the middle of all that, can you see me having a tug of war with my daughters over my own things? No thank you, better for them to rid me of my faults when I’m not around. Besides, I can always go through what they have deemed garbage later.”
“Send them a list of the things you can’t live without.”
“Larry and the dog.”
“I find it interesting that they are decluttering your house when they are living with you and their stuff is scattered everywhere. Mattresses, buckets of clothing, toys, and shoes, toiletries, towels, paints, canvases, I think I even saw a few tricycles in the living room?”
“I know, right? They have a lot of nerve.”
“What movie do you want to watch next?”
“You pick, I’ll make the popcorn.”
The things in my life that I don’t know are broken and tacky could apparently fill a large storage bin? It’s interesting to me that I’m unable to see what is so glaringly obvious to others, or I am simply turning a blind eye to attachments that are no longer serving me?
Shit. I am, and I’m being called out.
Lisa Shultz claims if we want more healing and peace in the world, let us each start with our homes, our relationships, our mindsets, and our clutter. Humm?
Lisa also warns us to be mindful and prevent possible conflict surrounding your belongings. She says aging often produces a waning of energy, and sadly, not all of us will maintain a sound mind (this is debatable), which can result in the consigning of sorting and dispersing one’s belongings to someone else who might
not want the job.
Or the job might be commandeered by overzealous daughters, while you’re still of right mind, and simply out of town. Just sayin.
Hours later I get another call from Kelley, “I’ve made a pile on the dining room table of everything you need to get rid of. I will allow you to hold each item for a few seconds and if it doesn’t spark joy we toss it. And by the way, all your fake plants have to go, we can’t stand a single one. I’m firm on that.”
“You’re firm on that?”
My sister is laughing so hard I thought she might pee her pants, at the very least tears are rolling down her cheeks, and she is shaking the entire couch with her mirth.
Mackenzie keeps turning up the volume on the television because she can’t hear the movie with all this ruckus going on! Lord have mercy.
“Okay, let’s not dismantle my entire house in my absence, I’ll see if the fake plants (which I love), and my treasured nicknacks spark joy when I get home.”
“Observe,” Kelley scans the noticeably bare mantel with her iPhone, “doesn’t this look a million times better?”
Another bout of laughter overtakes my sister.
“It’s a little anemic. Where’s the picture of Nancy and me?”
“And this,” she scans my hearth where an adorable antique blue lantern sits beside a pounded copper pot filled with fake hydrangeas, “what is this train chic? It has to go.”
I hear Larry say something in the background but it’s muffled.
“What did he say?”
“Nevermind, we have to go.” She clicks off.
I look at Nancy who says, “maybe we should leave now,” as she wipes the tears from her eyes.
“I have a feeling I’m not going to recognize my own home.”
“Do you think this might be a well-mastered scheme to keep you home instead of relaxing at the lake?”
“Hadn’t thought of that? They’re so devious!”
“Maybe they can do my house next.”
Brooks Palme says when you are filled with inner clutter, the chaos reflects in your personality as obsessiveness, confusion, disorganization, broken speech patterns, insomnia, indecisiveness, and lack of direction. When your home and world are in disarray, you can’t relax (that’s why I go to the lake).
He says it takes more energy to be in chaos because you have to keep track of all the junk. Eventually exhaustion sets in. When you honestly look at clutter and ask if it’s necessary in your life, buried emotions come to the surface…. Toss what’s unnecessary so that you can finally relax, and your remaining possessions will have a clear place to land.
We’ll see, this could all be a bunch of rigamarole, because at the present moment all those so-called buried emotions have stayed unexhumed. It’s as if I was to go to the doctor when I’m perfectly healthy, they’re bound to find something wrong (right), and I’ll leave with some sort of unnecessary placebo that’ll cost me a month’s salary.
Nancy and I have the car packed by 3:00 pm, it’s Friday, and time for us to begrudgingly head back to San Jose. Can I just say my sister drives like an old lady, I mean really old, and worst of all she doesn’t seem to notice?
I say, “Nan if you drive any slower we’ll be in reverse. You’re going 45 in a 65 zone? Do you see all these people glaring at us as they go around you? You’re a boulder!”
“I thought they were just being friendly.”
“That is not how you wave.”
“Do you really want to get home and find out if any of your belongings spark joy? It could be a jolting experience.”
“Hey, look at that car, they’re waving out the window.”
“What could I have possibly done in my previous life?”
Nancy drops me off at the end of the driveway, unloads my duffle on the sidewalk, and drives away like a bat out of hell, “so she does know how to accelerate?” I wave from the sidewalk like all the other friendly drivers. She returns the gesture out the window. Nice.
I tentatively open the front door lugging my duffle and computer, “I’m home,” glancing at the dining table to the right of the entry, it’s overflowing with paraphernalia from all over the house, I look away before I get dragged into a Kondo crisis.
Following the voices out to the patio, I use the side door, stepping into a dinner party in full swing. Nic has smoked two types of ribs, Kelley has invited her dear friends over for dinner, Larry opened some Six Sigma wine, bonus Dante is home, Kelley looks triumphant, Julie a little sheepish, as the grandkids come running in for a kiss. Total bliss.
After a liberal amount of ribs and wine, we linger on the patio enjoying the beautiful evening. I decide to tackle the carnage on the table tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep, and hopefully, with a renewed perspective, my survival rate will be much improved.
In the morning, before my first cup of coffee, Kelley starts unloading my bookshelves next to the bed. “Let’s start with your bookshelf, this is a disaster.”
“A disaster is a plane wreck, my bookshelf is more of a mishap.”
“It’s an eyesore. Let’s get started.”
I spent the better part of the morning dividing my books by the sense of “joy” they gave me when holding each novel, we drop about a hundred books off at the Goodwill, luckily I was able to sneak two under the car seat that I decided I couldn’t live without, The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, and The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy. Who can live without these classics?
“Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?” Marie Kondō
Marie Kondo says when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future. So I tackled the fears stacked up on the dining room table on my own, restoring several items deemed as “rubbish” back to their proper station in life. Kelley lamented every one. I did throw three or four bags of unnecessary clutter in the back of Larry’s truck, as our garbage situation is out of control.
Marie says marathon tidying produces a heap of garbage. At this stage, the one disaster that can wreak more havoc than an earthquake is the entrance of that recycling expert who goes by the alias of “mother.” Love that.
I could almost feel the hooks from the past being removed as if a fish who had been caught and released.
My sister calls me in the afternoon, “I’m worried about you.”
“You sound depressed. You said you were getting rid of the things you love. Don’t do that, just box everything up, and we can put it all back when she’s gone.”
“I’m actually doing good. I needed this. I have a lot of things that are taking up space in my home that no longer serve a purpose. They’re here because I don’t get rid of things, this includes people, paraphernalia, and plants, even fake ones.”
“So I don’t need to rescue you?”
“You always have.”
“I always will.”
I think the art of learning what to keep and what to let go also applies to the people in your life. Everyone you meet is not going to become a best friend, or a beloved companion, but the ones who are hard to get along with teach us a precious lesson says Marie. They help us to clearly see the people we currently need, and the ones who serve no purpose, so the ones you want to keep close forever can come into focus.
The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life. I’m trying to focus on what I want to keep and just ignore the rubbish pile. Marie says the process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life. I’ve learned from this exhausting process that when you declutter, you open space that was previously unavailable, and who knows what will show up to fill the expanse.
I’m Living in the Gap, with lots of empty space, any ideas?
*Marie Kondo is a decluttering expert who claims every item in your home should “spark joy.”
- “If someone doesn’t live with you, neither should their stuff.”
- “There is no beyond, there is only here, the infinitely small, infinitely great and utterly demanding present.” Iris Murdoch