In June, I took some time away to cook at the somewhat annual YogaSlacker Teacher Training. It was a great excuse to take a bit of a time-out from my life and engage in a different type of work, lots of play, and dozens of fun new friends. When I returned, I was pretty overwhelmed. It was like going to summer camp and them coming home – I was happy to be back, but missed my new friends, the schedule of work hard/play hard, and all the new support I had.
The time away also did something to my psyche – it shook me up a bit. When I returned, it felt like I had this big wedding looming overhead and that there was a pile of something in between where I was now and getting ready to be there, then. Maybe that sounds convoluted, and it felt that way, too. I had this pervasive, nagging feeling like I was repeating the past; I had these feelings like a big pile of my past was sitting in front of me and unless I sorted it out, I wouldn’t know how to properly proceed.
As I’ve said before, I get overwhelmed sometimes too, and it’s okay. I gave myself that time, and I reached out for support. One of my mentors recommended that I go through a huge decluttering process so that I could sort out the physical aspects of my past, which always tie to the more subtle, psychic aspects inside (the physical and the subtle realities are totally linked!). She recommended the book by Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
I trust her recommendations, so like the Amazon Prime junkie that I am, I ordered it and two days later it was hot in my hands. I devoured it in two sittings. Her writing is like her method of tidying – crisp, clean and strict. There were times when I would read her strict words and think, Wow! Who died and made you tidying queen? Which was usually quickly followed by, And yet, I see how you’re absolutely right.
Spoiler alert: She was.
I scheduled a few days of tidying on my calendar and started, as she suggested, with my clothing. Now, her method is unlike any other method for cleaning or tidying that I’ve tried. Most methods have you discard things you don’t use often, or haven’t worn for a year, and to work through cleaning one room at a time. Not hers. You tidy everything in categories, not by room, and you start by visualizing the life you want to have.
Think about this for a moment. If you could have your home and your things serve you in the best way possible, what would that look like? How could your home and your things support your joy, your happiness?
This visualization was critical to the whole process working – I know because I tried to skip it. I was so eager to get started that I skipped the most crucial step. Then I was sitting in a huge pile of my clothing thinking, What the hell do I do next? Without this visualization, you have no context for deciding what to keep.
That’s probably the most critical lesson here – in this method, you decide what to keep, not what to discard.
The method goes like this: you visualize the life you want, which is hopefully infused with joy. Then, category by category, you go through your things. You hold each item within each category and notice whether or not it sparks joy. If it does, you choose to keep it. If not, you choose to discard it.
You start with clothing. You put every item of your clothing on the floor. If you don’t put it in the pile, it’s automatically discarded. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it sounds harsh and it’s a pain in the butt. And yes, she’s right. It’s really easy to think, I never discard this item. I’ll just leave it there. But that would skew the whole process, so I did my best to follow the directions.
Yeah, pretty gross, right? I had to bring my seasonal clothing storage up from the garage.
Once I had my visualization, I started the process. I held each piece of clothing in my hands and noticed if it sparked joy. Some of this was easy – favorite play clothes, dressy clothes, and comfort clothes made it into the “keep” pile easily. Anything that didn’t require me to wear a bra generally made it, too. Much more difficult for me were items that I didn’t wear but had sentimental attachment to. This made me really dig deep and think about what values I place around joy. Do I find joy in something I can’t wear but keep around for a memory? I decided that no, I can always keep that memory; I don’t have the to have a piece of otherwise useless clothing to give it to me.
It made me really look at what kinds of clothing I value and which pieces bring me joy. I realized that items that allow me to move easily, that fit me really well, and aren’t too structured bring me the most joy. I also realized that I keep around really old, scungy underwear that not only don’t bring me joy, but kind of suck the joy out of underclothing in general. Ick. I got rid of all of those (I threw those away, I did not donate swiss-cheese-like underwear. You’re welcome, bargain hunter).
The item of clothing that was most difficult was a lovely fleece jacket that my mom had made for me for prom. Yes, prom as in high school. She was out of town when I had my prom and was sad to miss the getting ready part and the whole experience. Besides dress shopping with me, she sewed me this beautiful jacket to wear over my dress for the evening. It was such a sweet act of love that even though the jacket no longer fit and I hadn’t worn it in years, I still kept it around. This experience taught me that someone else can find joy in this jacket, whereas I can rest peacefully in the memory that my mother loves me – I don’t need a jacket I don’t wear to remind me of that.
I cried for a moment while I put that in donate bag. Same with a fleece that my dad had bought me on a trip together (in high school). It was two sizes two big, but reminded me of a fun day scouting colleges together.
I got rid of eight bags of clothes. Eight bags!!!
The next part was the best. She teaches you this incredible folding technique which, honestly, does seem incredibly anal at first but again, is brilliant and totally worth the effort. You fold everything into a small rectangle and stack things up in the drawer so you can see everything in there. Your clothing looks up at you like the end of book. With all of my clothes folded this way I just feel so pleased every time I open my drawers. Now, all of my clothing fits into my drawers and closet easily. I have no clothing storage, and every piece I own brings me joy. What a great feeling!
Check out these drawers. Amazing, right?
The next category on the list is books
I love books. So, so much. I can’t really handle all the electronic book stuff; I really like to hold books in my hand and turn the pages and write in the columns. I thought this was going to be hard, but it actually wasn’t. The rules were the same – which books bring you joy – and books you hadn’t yet read get thrown out. My books have started migrating out of my limited book shelf space, down to the garage, out to my office, into every nook and cranny of the house. They took over! See:
So I got to work. Here’s me working happily away, and then after the process, when I could fit all of my books on three shelves. Wow!
I kept going. I went for papers next, then miscellaneous stuff. My garage got so full with all of my discards that I had to stop there until I could take all of the clutter to the donation center. My guy got in on the action too and discarded a bunch of his clothing and books.
Yesterday, I took 16 bags of clothing and accessories (bags, jewelry, etc) to the Goodwill. I plan to get our books donated to our city’s library program in the next week. From there, I’ll tackle all my sports equipment in the garage and finish with the kitchen, since it’s shared space.
Sorting out my physical stuff helped me to sort out my psychological stuff
As I removed clutter from my home – clutter being all those things I just kept around but didn’t infuse my life with joy or meaning – it felt really good, and it also showed me areas where I can continue this process of tidying. Next will be my business, my website and my workspace. My activities, how I spend my energy, what I choose to focus on – all of those things can be tidied and de-cluttered.
Funnily enough, I also signed up for a money bootcamp in which one of the main strategies is to declutter your beliefs and memories around money. This is the space I’m working in next.
All of my classes teach how the subtle body and the physical body are linked. As a highly sensitive person, this connection feels real all the time. Sometimes I forget how it works both ways – how in working with the physical space, changing behaviors, re-ordering and decluttering, the interior space is refreshed.
Now that feeling of having a pile of the past in front of me is gone. It’s removed. Those things I was hanging onto in my mind and in my house have been lovingly discarded so that I can be surrounded by and focus on joy, on the present and on continuing to build the life of my dreams, not the life of my memories.