Lessons Learned From Decluttering

I find the Chinese Zodiac fascinating. Each year is themed based on the characteristics of an animal or creature and even though I don’t understand what each of the individual themes mean, the concept of each year of one’s life having its own character seems well worth exploring. So I took a page out of the book and I’ve dubbed this year, “The Year of the Housekeeper” because I have decided to make my life tidier in a host of different ways.

Over the past seven days, I have invested a lot of energy in something that I haven’t done in my apartment in at least three years: decluttering. I’ve gone through every closet, every drawer and every storage area and carefully examined their myriad contents. In each area, I’ve looked lovingly at things that bring back happy memories and things that I’ve held on to for a rainy day and been tempted to put them back in the same place. But in order to stifle the inner pack rat in me, I asked myself the same clarifying question over and over: am I ever going to actually need this particular item again? And after sorting through hundreds and hundreds of things, I headed to the dumpster with a host of boxes and 20 bags of trash.

As I traveled back and forth to the dumpster, it was interesting how much of a correlation there was with some difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my life this year. There are people that bring happy memories of times past – people who I have had the honor of helping in their educational journeys, people that I have shared friendship with as we travel similar paths in life and people who I have met through the church. And amidst strained communication and difficult times, I’ve tried to cling to people who didn’t want to be held, telling myself that a day would arise when I might need this person again. But time rolls on and you realize that there are some people that you have to be willing to let go. The happy memories of yesterday aren’t going to translate into new adventures today because just like some of the clothes from my closet, they just don’t fit any more.

There were other items that were just as useful as they had ever been that I gave away to friends and family members. While they were no longer as valuable in my own life, others were very happy to receive them. Games and electronics and bags and t-shirts brought smiles to the faces of those who were benefiting from my cleansing process. And as I saw the smiles creating by my purging, I also reflected that are things that become more valuable when they are released. Holding on to things that are just sitting in the shadows and collecting dust prevent others from being happy because they may truly stand in need. Things like forgiveness. Second chances. New beginnings. I’ve held on to them at times because I was saving them for a day when they would really be needed instead of allowing others to enjoy them right now.

But the most interesting thing that I have learned in this process wasn’t realized until the process was complete. There’s more space in the closets, more room in the drawers and everything fits into its place more neatly than it did before. Now, when I walk into my closet, the clothes that remain stand out, giving me a clearer sense of what is available to wear that day. Now, when I select which watch to wear for the day, I can see them all because each has its own distinct place where I can appreciate it individually. And I’m finding that even though it’s sad to lose people and it’s hard to give up grudges, the space that is created by letting both go allows me to appreciate the people and the feelings that remain. In the light that can only be appreciated in the absence of clutter, I’m gaining new insight into the value of each person who remains in my world and the particular joy that each brings. And together, they continue to make every step of the journey more pleasant that it ever could have been without them.

Many thanks to those who stick around. Truly, less is more.