Decluttering Our Lives

Perhaps you have heard of Marie Kondo and her television show and book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”  The gist of her show is to go into people’s homes and teach them the joy associated with decluttering.   This intrigues me because, having moved recently, I am so aware of the amount of “stuff” that accumulates over the years.  Stuff becomes a burden when drawers are so full it is impossible to find the one thing I really need.

Kondo teaches her clients to simplify and improve the quality of their lives by letting go of any items that do not bring joy into their lives.  For example, she has clients pile all their clothes on a bed, go through items one by one, asking if this item sparks joy.  If not, the item is discarded.  The result is a closet with clothes that are easy to find and desirable to wear. The overall effect of using this method throughout the house and garage is a sense of a new beginning that is orderly and simple.

Her method reminds me of all transitions.  Major changes start with letting go before one can move into a new beginning.  This is certainly true of the retirement transition but applies to others as well—emptying the nest, having a health decline, moving into assisted living, etc.  There is a need to let go of what served us well in the past but no longer fits our needs or desires.

Letting go is not easy.  Often letting go of material things is symbolic of letting go of a part of our lives that we once enjoyed.  A few years ago, I decided it was time to let go of my golf clubs that had been taking up space in the garage.  Because of an arthritic shoulder, I had not golfed in four years.  Still it was hard to admit to myself that my golfing days were over.  Instead of pretending I would take up the sport again, I made space for my new bike—an activity I can handle and enjoy.

I look at this as a metaphor for all the transitions in the aging process.  We may realize it is time to let go of life as we have known it.  Usually there is a period of denial until we face reality.  “This big house and yard are really getting to be too much for me.”  However we are slow to let it go because of the joy and memories attached to our history in this house.  When the burden becomes too heavy, we decide to let go.  Not easy!  We know what we have had but do not see clearly what new opportunities the future may hold for us.

Again, I am speaking from experience having recently downsized from a large corner lot and house to a smaller townhouse in a neighborhood association.  It was a great house in a nice neighborhood.  The transition—buying one home, selling the other—was a painful process and a lot of work.  However now each day that it snows, I am grateful that I don’t have to shovel.  I won’t have to worry about yardwork in the spring and life has become simpler.  The change has opened up more time to read, write, and pursue my hobbies.

The process of letting go according to Kondo should be governed by that which brings us joy.  Many people older than I are golfing because they enjoy it.  Others are enjoying their gardens and yardwork.  On the other hand, some may be hanging on to properties, responsibilities, or activities that have lost their allure.  When making life decisions, the key question is “Does this (blank) still bring my joy or is it a burden that brings me stress?”  Another great question is “If I were not spending my time and money on (blank), what might I spend them on?”

Whenever we make a decision to let go, it is beneficial to follow another one of Kondo’s counsels.  She advises that we express our gratitude and bless that which has served us well, whether it be a set of old golf clubs or a house we have enjoyed.  We bless the past and look forward to what life has in store for us.

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