Learning to Love the Process

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I have been working on decluttering for about 12 years, on and off. I used to save everything, in case it came in handy later. When I bought my first house with my ex-husband, I was thrilled that there was a big garage in the back yard to store our stuff. And, boy, did we have a lot of stuff in there. My dad even came and built some sturdy shelves so that everything wasn’t piled on the floor. We had racks for clothes and boxes and boxes of stuff. So much stuff, in fact, I didn’t have the slightest clue what most of it was. One day, as I was setting something aside, just in case, I had an epiphany. Even if I did need it again, I would never be able to find it! How many times had I gone out to the garage to find something, only to give up an hour or more later and just buy a replacement? Far too many.

I couldn’t just toss everything out, though. I knew there really were a few things in there that were important, so I had to go through things. Plus, I didn’t have that kind of courage. Just the thought of tossing even the oldest box without at least a cursory glance filled me with anxiety. It was hard to actually toss things even when I was looking through the boxes, though. I hated the decisions, and I hated the sense of loss. I kept at it though, often just going through one box, or spending only 15 minutes and then stopping. After a few days, I could see a difference, which I found very motivating. I found it a lot easier to let go of things once I started seeing the benefits of having less clutter.

It still takes time to go through stuff and get rid of it, though, and darned if more things don’t keep coming into my house. When the kids were small and I was going through the divorce, things got out of hand again. I would make some token efforts, but the sheer amount of stuff that accompanies small children combined with full-time work at the office plus all the work at home meant I did not get very far. Plus, I had a hard time adjusting to visitation. When the kids were home, I did not want to spend our time cleaning, but when they were gone, I wasn’t home much–it seemed too lonely there.

Eventually, I snapped out of it. Twice since then, I have moved from a small-ish place to a larger one (2 bedroom apartment to a 3 bedroom apartment, then to the house, which is nearly twice the size of the apartment, plus a basement), and both times, I got rid of many, MANY things in the course of the move. I didn’t want to move things that I didn’t actually need or want. I probably took 6 full carloads of stuff to Good Will with each move, and tossed nearly as much into the trash and recycling. I got rid of even more things as we unpacked in the house. Every time I clean, I get rid of as many things as I can. Once a month, I go through my closet and get rid of a few things. I send my kids on decluttering missions: to the boy: “Go find 10 toys we can donate as fast you can!”; to the girl, “Go try on anything you think doesn’t fit, and bring down the clothes you’ve outgrown.”

But, our house is still cluttered. Yes, it is better than it was. Our downstairs makes a passable impression of an organized home, except for the kitchen table and some shelves in the family room. Given a day’s notice, I can even make the house look pretty nice. But I have scary drawers and cabinets from the days I just toss stuff to make things look nicer. Also, it never seems to stay nice.

My problem is that I view decluttering as a project with a goal: a decluttered home. That is simply not reality. There will always be new clutter coming in. The kids grow out of their clothes and toys, our hobbies change, the mailman drops a load of junk in my box everyday. Oh, and the amount of paper that comes home from school! I need to view it as a process. Sure, I can try to lower the overall amount of stuff, streamlining my wardrobe, my dishes, my books (well, maybe not the books…my hardest kind of decluttering), and that may make it easier to maintain the house, but it will never be free of clutter. There will never be a time when I can check that task off my list for good.

So, I am working on loving the the process. It makes me feel very Zen to say it, even though I am not into Buddhism at all, but I am learning to let go of any attachment to the idea of completing the task. I am doing this for a lot of things, actually. It is not that I don’t have a goal. It’s more that I am coming to realize you miss too much when you have a laser-like focus on the goal and only the goal. Most of reaching a goal is all the work you put in before you reach it, so I need to pay attention to the journey as well.

5 responses »

  1. Well said! I believe in staying mindful to the present moment, but it takes a lot of work. This post addresses frustration I feel over the clutter in my home too, but I appreciate your patient humor and realism.

    • Thanks, Rae! This is the patience I can muster when I am writing about, not doing it, but I do try to keep that patience when I am working on it. The hardest time to keep it is when I look at my kids’ rooms, ;).

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