Many of us are trying to clean out years of accumulated stuff, de-clutter our living spaces and simplify our lives as we get older.
Reasons for this are many: to make it easier for our kids or whomever will be going through our belongings when we die; or the recent book, Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (“keep only what sparks joy”); or we’ve become aware of the correlation between a cluttered home and a cluttered mind and spirit.
A friend even has a business helping people downsize, de-clutter and manage paperwork (firstname.lastname@example.org). Clothes, old papers, furniture, books, decorations, art – we all have way too much.
A house I was in recently was so full of things, I could hardly walk through it. Stacks of old newspapers and magazines, hundreds of bric-a-brac pieces and every space on every wall covered with some memento. It felt so heavy in there, extremely energy-draining and old. I felt buried!
We tend to keep items given to us, either by family members who have died or old friends we want to remember. I know that having other people’s stuff around can remind us of their spirits, but is this at the expense of our own?
Or, we think we have to keep this, “just in case.” Or, we’re still holding onto things that belong to our kids. These are big emotional attachments. The past recedes whether we want it to or not. Do we really own this stuff, or just bear it? To live in the present, we must look to what comes next, and empty out our spaces to open to the possibilities.
“Keep only what sparks joy.” This is somewhat difficult, as there are the complications of emotions in just about everything we fill our homes with. To keep it or not? This ambivalence suggests worry or wonder, and perhaps we consult our friends as to what they think. When we truly love something, we know. I could never part with my bone collection, my favorite jeans or the flower drawings my aunt did in the 1950s. Not up for discussion!
Most certainly all this clutter impedes our ability to live and allow others in, both physically and emotionally. Holding tight to so many things perhaps results in nothing surviving. With so much stuff, nothing stands out and we can’t relate to any of it. Space solves problems. “Space is a lack of pressure,” said a friend. I always love when I can take my plants outdoors in the spring – my house feels more open and serene. In the fall, it feels crowded again when I bring them in.
In meditation, or any quiet practice that clears our minds, we have a chance to let go in the moment so we have time to enjoy and make use of the clarity that comes. We can have a wide-open road before us filled with new promises, ideas and options, instead of tired, stale, old delusions and attachments. May our homes help support us in this new stage of aging.
Martha McClellan has been a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life, and has written the book, The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game. Reach her at email@example.com.