Friday, 30 October 2015

Clutter and Heartstrings

This post took several days to write because it turns out I still had a little "self work" to do on this topic.  Oh my.  I intended on writing a very practical post about the specifics of decluttering in a large family but in all honesty, there's a plethora of that kind of help on the internet already.  I'm going to talk about the hard part (which isn't hauling things out of the house, by the way).

Family life is full of "stuff".  As a sentimental person, I have always struggled to get rid of things with fond memories attached (which meant that anything was fair game for me to keep!).   This past year, I've learned that keeping too many things makes me feel frustrated and overwhelmed (which in all honesty, can and does overshadow the fond memories).  

Three sheds, an oversize triple garage and a full basement translates into us having plenty of storage space. This is fantastic (and a huge asset) if we can keep things organized.  Sounds easy enough in theory (the logical part of me is speaking, now) but in practice, with busy lives full of diverse interests and constantly changing variables (the very nature of a large family), this is a challenge.   Factor in emotions and this becomes near impossible.

When does as asset become a liability (clutter)?

Something to ponder isn't it?

Some years ago, we had reached the tipping point of "stuff" and some culling had to be done.  Emotions played a massive (unexpected) role in this process.   Keeping things felt safe to me.   It's hard and frightening to let go.  

For many years, I was the mother to 5 children living at home. Like a mother hen with chicks safely nestled under her wing, I took my job of raising them and teaching them quite seriously.  I loved mothering my children and happily identified myself in that role for 2 full decades.  Two decades!  That's a long time.

Letting go of tangible things (because our family was growing up) rather harshly signalled the "end" of my childbearing years.  No more babies?  How can that be?  How could I possibly be so firmly planted in middle age and how can some of my children be adults already?  My decades-long identity as a "young mother to 5" was beginning to crumble - eeek!  What on earth was to come next?    Fear (and plenty of it), I found.

Of course, I'm not defined solely as a Mother, but because that role played a huge part in my life for a very long time, it makes sense now that I would struggle as my role was re-defined (oh, that hindsight and its wisdom!).   I enjoyed mothering as much as I was challenged by it, so saying goodbye to those years was harder than I thought.  Giving things away that had strong memories of that time was harder than I thought.

Since these profound realizations, I've contentedly (happily, as it turns out) come to terms with this massive shift.  So much so, I can honestly say how eager and excited I am for this next stage in life!   I realized that I needed time to process and "de-brief" all that's happened in the whirlwind of the last 20 years.  I needed time to think and reminisce not to mention validate what I (willingly) sacrificed.  I needed time to see my children in the new light of this realization, too  ~ they were becoming (and some had already become) successful adults!   Only then (after this gruelling self work was done) could I think ahead to what might become of me and us (and all that stuff).

No wonder I wasn't ready to give things away until recently.  In all honesty, I barely had time to sit down or complete a thought for 20 years so I've had a lot of catching up to do.  Here is when I gently lead myself (and you, the reader) back to the reality of implementing serious, large scale decluttering.     I have but ONE tip for you:

The work is not clearing the stuff - the REAL work is in your head. 

Funny thing isn't it?  My resistance to letting go of stuff ended up being all about me feeling loss in my life (my children growing up and not needing me like they did when they were little).   I wanted control (when in reality I had none), so I kept all that "stuff" complete with those strong memories attached to it.  I realize now that I placed value on the wrong things which is so ironic given my personal motto:

"people first, things second"    

This all makes perfect sense now although I certainly never did it on purpose.  By keeping things, I felt safe and somehow in control of the massive amount of change that relentlessly came at me for 20 years.  It's time now to get to know my children as adults and "soon to be adults" because I see now how I was stuck in the past ~ afraid to move forward and really know them as people.  That's big stuff, isn't it?  Oh, this mothering is a hard gig....

Fast forward a while and now we sit in a pretty good place... Free of (most) of our clutter and ready to face the next chapter in our lives.   Through unconditional giving we have received more than we could have ever hoped for ~ peace and contentment.

What's holding you back from letting go?


  1. Oh my goodness, sweet friend, I'm going to have to read this a few times again to embed all that wisdom! I am so in the thick of the "young mothering" phase you talk about, and am just very grateful for your mentorship and generosity in sharing all this. Thank you!

  2. I'm not too bad at the decluttering thing, but recently I struggled in the decision to get rid of my wedding dress. For 19 years it has been neatly stored in tissue paper in a special box in the wardrobe. It took up a lot of precious space, and I wasn't quite sure why I was keeping it, as it was a style that my daughter wouldn't want to wear.

    It had stains on the fabric and was in bad shape, so I decided to get rid of it, but I struggled big time to do it. It wasn't about the special memories attached to it, I'll always have those, can you believe I eventually narrowed my hesitations down to superstition!!!

    I was worried if I threw the dress out something bad would happen, no idea what, and no idea why. So weird isn't it. Anyway I did throw it out, about 6 months ago, and the space it has created in the wardrobe is so valuable. Nothing bad has come of it yet (LOL) and I doubt it will, it was just a silly little notion.

    Gosh our brains are weird!

  3. While tidying closets the other day I came across the sleep sac I had sewn for my oldest son while he was a baby. He was at kindergarten that day, something I'm still not used to, and when I saw the Cookie Monster sac he used to sleep in I almost fell to my knees in tears. I absolutely understand your reluctance to let go of the "stuff" that reminds you of when your babies were small. I put the sleep sac up with his little memory box. It's torn and worn out and no value to anyone but me who used to rock him in it and all those snuggles. Maybe someday I'll be able to let it go, but that won't be for awhile!

    1. Oh, I know exactly what you mean. Those memories come back in a torrential flood of emotions, don't they?

  4. Gosh - I read this three are so, so right. We have had to force the issue by downsizing the house and thus MAKING us de-clutter....plenty more to do but.

    1. It's the interprovincial move that forced me into dealing with it. It was back burner-ed long enough! Life with 5 kids is certainly full of stuff, hey Phil?

  5. Thank you for this post. I've read a lot about how to declutter and how to let go of stuff, but this is one of the best! You are right the real work is the head and heart part that we attach to the stuff used in each stage of life. Your gentle approach makes so much sense.

    1. Well, it might not make sense to others, but it worked for me :) I know people who hang onto things because in childhood, they had nothing. There's a lot of reasons why we hang onto things so our approach will be as unique as each of us.

  6. I found it got easier as I went along and at times I went a bit crazy getting rid of stuff. We still need to de clutter some more but we have done well so far.