Day 3: the decluttering to end all decluttering
First, let us take a moment to appreciate the exquisite accident of fate that had decluttering fall on Amazon Prime day AND the Feast of St. Benedict. Just breathe it in. So I managed to set my task as reflecting on decluttering physical possessions on some sort of secular pseudo holiday devoted to shopping, and that happened to fall on the feast of a Saint who promulgated the monastic rule that is summarized by ora et labora: pray and work. Have you ever visited a Benedictine monastery? It is not cluttered, I can assure you.
Day 3 in the Minimalists is the packing party. And I’ll just be real a second, for just a millisecond (oh please, like no one else ever has Hamilton cue up in their heads when you use that phrase). There is no way that I am going to pack up every single possession I have for my whole family and then unpack as needed. Packing would take weeks in this house, and while that just goes to show you that there is room to let go, it also means I couldn’t follow this strategy. It was also undertaken by someone in a radically different season of life, so I just don’t feel bad on this front.
I started my decluttering efforts based on articles that came from the minimalist email course that I got in my bundle, which is from No Sidebar. They start with clothes, and I feel like that’s the easy gateway to decluttering. Everyone’s got something they don’t wear anymore. I imagine that for some people, this is relatively easy “Here is this thing I don’t like/doesn’t fit/I don’t wear. Gone.” You can use any number of delimiters for this: does it spark joy, does it fit, does it work with your season in life, do you wear it? I suppose it depends on whether you’re going general declutter, hardcore declutter or full on KonMarie.
I just wanted to have less clothes in my way when I got dressed in the morning.
I took a day off of work as vacation time, and got to work.
By the end of the day, I had 9 huge garbage bags full of clothes that went away to Goodwill. I like Goodwill because I used it when I didn’t have a clothes budget to speak of, and I like the thought of someone else walking down a similar path finding what they need as I did. That was the easy part. Where I have struggled, and continue to struggle through, is what is my litmus test? This isn’t about clearing space to find who I am or what I’m meant to do– I already know what my end goal is. I’m trying to simplify aspects of my life so its easier to do that. Fewer things in the house = cleaning done faster = a happier home + more free time. How simple!
Oh my word, it is not simple.
The hardest part was when I had to clean out the stash of my child’s baby clothes. You see, like most mothers, I banked all the clothes in good condition for my future children. The future children never arrived. No one ever tells you that may happen. They tell you live a Catholic marriage, be open to life, and you will be blessed. And we were, once. But not again. In five years, we have had no indication that we will ever have those baby days again. This isn’t an infertility blog, so no need for gory details, but suffice to say that there are tests, and blood work, and diet, and appointments, and it is hard and trying and leaves you in tears more often than not. And I had to bundle that up and put it in garbage bags to haul away to those lucky enough to get pregnant.
Someday, it will be a comfort to me. To think of those other little children who get to wear cute onesies or tee shirts, whose parents were able to clothe them even when faced with budget constraints. To know that those little outfits got use again, and that somewhere someone has cherished photographs of their child wearing those little scraps of cloth. But it doesn’t help me now, and it won’t for a while.
The idea with decluttering is that you are getting rid of things that no longer have a place in your life. If you KonMarie, you thank them for their service and move on. How do you move on from what was never started? How do you develop gratitude for a stifled, undeveloped dream? How do you pack these things away, let them go with a free spirit when they represent the future you hoped for that never came to be?
I don’t have an answer for you. I still don’t know. I moved on from there. I cleaned out the medicine cabinet (a wholly unemotional task) and the hallway closet (in which I said goodbye to a whole collection of hand lotions I was just never going to use). I cleaned off the top of my crafting area so that I could actually, you know, craft. I found clothes I had been missing, felt the rooms open up and breathe a little more.
I started to appreciate that our space is, in fact, big enough for our family. I stopped tripping over fourteen different items on my way to bed each night. And there is blessing in that. I have read variations on this theme, but they say that life happens in the margins. That God works in the blank space. But if you have no blank space, where are these wonderful moments supposed to happen? And if you’ve gone forever in a hectic, frantic full to bursting life, how do you even know where to make the blank space?
There is, of course, a tradition in the Church of not being attached to material things, of finding reminders in the physical world to reflect us up to God. I was reminded today of a trip to Subiaco. Have you ever been to Subiaco, in Italy? There is a big Benedictine monastery there. It was built over a grotto in which St Benedict spent time praying and meditating, and coming up with what would be the Rule of St Benedict. The grotto is now a chapel, and somehow (ha, let’s be real, this is big time Holy Spirit stuff right here) I was able to attend Mass in that grotto chapel. Now, there are a few chapels down there and I honestly don’t remember which one I was in. I do remember that this was still rough-hewn rock, nothing remotely fancy. If you have a minimal chapel, this was more minimal than that, no doubt. But the trappings of the Mass? They were magnificent. There is a tension, between the simple plan place, and the beautiful treasures that are an integral part of the celebration and sacrifice of the Mass.
How beautiful! How beautiful this reminder, right in front of me, embedded in my memory, that there is a place for beautiful important physical things in a well placed life. A reminder that there can be reminders in physical objects that point us toward Heaven, toward the Good, the True, the Beautiful, the important. But it isn’t everything, no, not by half. There are some things which are good in their necessity, but not inherently meaningful. My bath towel, for example, is an important part of my routine, lest I have to drip dry after every shower (an impossibility some humid days, I swear). It does not spark joy, it does not carry meaning, it does not put me in mind of greater things. But it still has a place, and as long as it can do its job and dry me off without causing damage, that is enough for that. The difficult part is determining what fits into what category, and I’m still learning there.