Last year a dear friend moved to another state when her husband followed a new job opportunity. There were many reasons I was sad to see her go, and although she herself had mixed feelings, there was an excitement in her voice, looking towards interesting adventures and new beginnings.
One of her most invigorating activities, and the one that inspired me even in my own permanently planted state, was her cleaning out of belongings and ridding their family of unnecessary things. “It feels so good!” she told me, and I listened and longed for that same attitude of freedom. And so I began on my own purging undertaking to rid our home of all the fluff.
My mother was quite a “collector,” and toward the end of her life that became a huge problem for her and my dad. Having lived through (and sorted through) all of that, I do have a sense of utilitarianism, keeping what is needed, and finding a better home for the rest. No one would call me a minimalist, and I do have several sentimental reminders of important life activities, but compared to many others, I have never been a packrat. Or so I thought.
During spring break a year ago I started going through drawers and closets in our bedroom, and along the way I found treasures I had forgotten about and other things that definitely needed to go. It took the better part of that week, but it left me feeling energized and ready to go through the whole house. I decided I would complete this activity during the summer to come.
But last summer our son had just graduated from college and the focus was on him and his finding a job. I was distracted to say the least, and the cleaning out didn’t get completed. So I made a plan for the school year. A room each month, with no drawer or cabinet left undone. Looking towards retirement at the end of the year, I knew I wanted it done before then.
Lo and behold, my plan started to come together! Somehow each month a day appeared (or two or three) that offered me the time to pull out things, think through their value, and reorganize our lives. The completion of each room made me more ready to move on to the next one. Even though I initially dreaded the kitchen, one rainy day in April I managed to get the filtering in that entire room finished. I was exhausted at the end of the day, and at one point my husband said, “Now what will you do when you retire?” Seriously?? Many, many other things, now that my home life was organized.
The funny thing is, none of this showed on the surface. Friends familiar with our home could come in and never notice anything different. That was a little discouraging, and the day after I completed the clean-out of the kitchen, I went back in there and opened all the cabinets at one time so I could survey the results and remind myself how much better it truly was. Having that knowledge buried in my own heart has become a solace for me.
And in the midst of this, retirement. I had taught for 34 years, and along the way I had accumulated many things. Last year we had two classroom teachers retire, and they spent the first half of summer going through things and getting their classrooms cleaned out. I wanted to walk out the school door on the last day and have everything finished. I wanted my retirement to begin on day one of summer, and so I began that task in January.
I started with things that wouldn’t be noticed. I worked long and hard on computer files, sorting and sifting through what to keep for me, what to set aside for the next literacy specialist, and what to delete. That took the most amount of time, and was mind boggling and totally draining mentally. I hadn’t been the most organized of file savers. Several things were placed in multiple places so I could find them – which actually made them harder to locate. I do believe I finally accomplished this task with good results, and it made me wish I had organized those files long ago.
(I really didn’t want others to know of my retirement plans. In addition to the principal, there were only two dear friends at my school that knew. They kept that secret for me, and I highly recommend that to others. When it was announced about three weeks before the end of school, another teacher told me, “I sure didn’t see this coming.” I took that as a sincere compliment, and was so pleased that no one seemed to think that I had “let up” in my work because I was on the way out.)
So I came in during spring break and cleaned out my filing cabinets. I also had a large collection of personal books there at school, and I began taking them home just a few at a time. It wasn’t until after others knew I was leaving that I asked my husband to come one weekend and get a few bookshelves, an office chair, and the lamps that kept my windowless room aglow. By then my walls and bulletin boards were cleared, and the one box of posters and displays to keep went home that weekend, too.
Everything I kept is in one filing cabinet in the garage and one box under the bed. It does need to be sorted through one more time, and I believe I will eliminate a few more things. It has been an arduous but very gratifying journey. However, it was worth every effort and mental strain. On that last day of school I walked out with my purse on my shoulder and a few bittersweet tears in my eyes.
This whole process of ordering my life has taught me so much. I can find things more easily now. When new items are purchased – after a thought process that relates to the true need and worth of said pieces – I know where they need to be set up or stored. I have discovered things that truly matter, some things that I had forgotten about. I have gotten rid of “stuff” that had placed itself in the way of my treasuring those other, much more important gifts.
Much of the activity in our lives of the last few months is now a blur. I was “in my head” for a good deal of that time, sorting and sifting to find the grain among the chaff, the true gold amidst the gravel. To carry on in the future means to continue this process daily, and I hope to do just that. There are exciting days ahead, and I don’t want to be weighed down with the burden of unnecessary things.