The past year has been very, very heavy emotionally, 2010 was like a steamroller. It has been seven months since I lost my Mom. I had faith that I would eventually feel better, but it was still as surprise when I actually stopped feeling 100% awful all the time. After six months, when the clouds started to part, I felt like telling people I had been on another planet but now I was back. So I am feeling better, which is great, but I haven’t felt like writing much, which I don’t like. There is still clearly work to be done in the recesses of my mind, but don’t confuse my relative silence for depression.
This week I took a step forward by lightening my load on a literal level, hoping it would help me generate a fresh start in my mind. At the very least I would sublimate all my grief energy into something productive. It was time for a major spring cleanup, and I finally let go of more than 1000 pounds of lifetime accumulated possessions that just we didn’t need any more.
Notice I didn’t say “junk.” My family’s stuff was still not junk to me–these were things that meant something important to us at one time, but now it was time to let go. Throughout my life, I have never lived in one house more than five years, and those moves always prompted major periodic cleanouts, so living in my current house for more than ten years has been a novel experience in accumulation. When we moved to North Carolina in 2000, I was a mother of a newly toddling baby, I expected to teach psychology or neuroscience again, and a second baby was definitely a possibility. It was being a writer than was just a twinkle in my mind’s eye and a few dozen pages of experimental writing that I had freewritten as procrastination and a creative outlet while I was supposed to be finishing my Ph. D. thesis. (That later became my first book, the young adult novel, High Water. And I did finish the thesis on time, too!)So when we moved to North Carolina from California, I held on to all my baby clothes and gear as well as all my teaching materials and neuroscience notes and textbooks. Now felt like the first time I was truly ready to re-evaluate and LET GO. I am not going to have another baby–my own baby is now almost as tall as I am, and only a bit more than a year shy of being a teenager! I still consider myself a teacher, but I am not going to teach psychology the way I used to, or chemistry, or neuroscience. Saying goodbye to those materials was hard but it felt right. I even appreciated the fact that I was probably a better student than I mentally gave myself credit for, based on the thousands of pages of notes and papers I wrote, researched, or studied. I made sure to pull out the most complicated journal article I could find and show it to my daughter and say, “This is what I used to read every day when I was a scientist.”
So, the final tally of what we let go was more than enough to fill a small moving truck: a tied-down pickup truck bed plus a minivan load of donations, four bins of paper recycling, two bags of shredding, and an 11-yard dumpster filled to the brim with trash! Yes, the trash felt bad, like a Time magazine article about how much stuff Americans have, but at least we’re not carrying it along unnecessarily in our house any more. Part of me feels like I’ve just won The Biggest Loser: the result feels like freedom, and space to bring in new, good things into our lives.
So look at the snapshot I took of the dumpster load….goodbye, Nancy Drew Cookbook from elementary school, goodbye broken alarm clock, and gross old sneakers that weren’t nice enough for the donation pile. And goodbye, crime against fashion, iridescent high-heeled Candie’s shoes from the 1980′s. I accomplished this clean-out in two days with the help of two talented organizers. I could not have done it without them, and I would not want to try to do it on my own! If you are looking for help in the Raleigh area, I highly recommend Marsha Stayer of Stayer Organizing and Stefanie Watkins of Clever Spaces.
I am ready to move forward while staying in place here in our home, enjoying this feeling of peace and possibility.
For a compassionate, intelligent exploration of related issues of mindfulness, attention as love, and letting go, read my friend and Zen priest Karen Maezen Miller’s lovely book, “Hand Wash Cold.” Karen, your wise messages are finally starting to sink in.