Clearing Space


Now that we have decided to sell our home, we are working hard to clean the place up.  We have so many things!  Being a homeschooling family with a permaculture (make no waste) outlook means that we have a hard time letting ‘useful things’ go sometimes.  Like the pile of bricks lovingly brought home in our Honda Civic that have sat stacked against the fence ever since.  Or how about the pile of tree intended to become hugelkultur beds?  The piles of baskets?  Where did they come from?  The…list goes on and on.

The items we’re purging are from the life we are slowly leaving behind.  As I pick up each item and consider whether or not it brings me joy, I am realizing just how much we are moving away from our days and home being filled with consumer culture.  I have been trying hard to pare down our possessions for a very long time.  But the idea of leaving this home has given me the gumption to look at these decisions in a new way.  I’m tired of living my life from a place of fear and scarcity.  Saving things for one day when we ‘might’ need them doesn’t make sense for the majority of the things we have been stockpiling.  Could we get by without the excessive stock of egg cartons, should there one day be a shortage in the world?  Did people not do without them once upon a time?  Although we don’t want to make waste, having all of this stuff is actually wasting the most precious of all things to us…our time.   I will not be wanting for vinyl tablecloths in the future, nor will I care about that book I never read.   If life comes to a place where we exist in a place of scarcity…and by this I mean real hard times, I have a hard time believing that the luxuries of a consumer driven culture will be of much benefit for survival.

A major time vacuum in our home is laundry.  We have been trying to think of ways to reduce this task to it’s minimum.  I read a great blog post about converting one room in the home into a shared closet/laundry room, which sounds wonderful!  But given our current trajectory, and wanting the problem fixed now, I opted for something different.  I have reduced the children’s wardrobes significantly instead.  Their drawers now hold  10 pairs of pants, 10 seasonal shirts (long sleeved right now for winter, but we kept 10 short sleeved shirts and 10 shorts for summer), 10 pairs of socks, 10 underpants, and 3 sweaters – since these are easily reused and also very bulky.  I have struggled with how many articles of clothing a child really needs, and how few things we can ‘get away with.’  I decided to settle on 10 as a trial run.  Although admitting to 10 items per category seems high, it reduced what was in their drawers by about half!  This alone was a big step…recognizing just how much excess there was!  Why did I choose 10 items per category?  I thought it would allow laundry to be done once a week, with a few extra items for good measure…because mess happens a lot around here and sometimes a wardrobe change midday is required!  The first week I thought about reducing down to less, but I’m going to give it a while first before pushing ourselves too hard.  Our laundry tasks have been drastically simplified, but that hasn’t made up for the fact that I still need to get it washed, folded and put away!  Amongst the other (never ending) tasks of the home, laundry still gets left by the wayside sometimes…as we deem it to be less important than other things in our life.

Numerous bags and boxes of stuff have already been moved out.  How did we have this much stuff?  And how is there still so much left!?  There is no shortage of things left to purge!  We’re trying to reduce the contents of our home by at least half.  Which is no small feat given how much our cupboards contain!  I have to keep reminding myself that this upheaval is just a storm, and when it passes the water will look even more beautiful.  I have to remind myself of this often, because the mess that is created as our carefully packed possessions explode into the living spaces.  What I have learned is that clearing out, while decorating for the holidays, while also experiencing real life with three littles can be very hectic at times!  The laundry isn’t getting folded for a reason!

I love my home to look tidy, and I also have some ace packing skills…which together have created a problem.  Cupboards are stocked neatly but excessively.  Being good at packing means I can always find space in the dishwasher for one more bowl…but it also means I can make room for that ‘thing’ in the cupboard too.  Finding that I have stockpiled 10 shower gels at the back of the bathroom closet was a bit of a surprise.  I knew I had extras, but could only see one since the rest had been carefully hidden lined up behind it.  In cleaning out the bathroom, I also found upwards of 15 toothbrushes!  These ‘useful things’ end up not being all that important for a family who uses one bottle of body wash a year and use an electric toothbrush!  We’ve decided to donate our excess to a local charity that helps homeless women get back on their feet.

I don’t want to spend my time tidying and cleaning.  It’s not that I dislike these tasks.  I actually find immense reward in completing a cleaning project!  But these tasks do not define my life.  The more things I have, the more they distract from the things I actually want to spend my time doing.  Each stolen moment I spend trying to cram too many bibs into the tiny drawer in our kitchen.  Each second I spend staring into the overcrowded closet looking for the thing I need.  Each minute spent re-configuring and reorganizing spaces to fit all the stuff.  This is all wasted time.  If I were to add up those moments, seconds and minutes, and I’m sure I’ve spent at least a year of my life shuffling stuff around.  It’s time for it to stop…because the less stuff we have the better our life gets.



Airing the Closet

Last week was pretty crazy.  Between the flu running its course and attempting to return to regular routines, I wasn’t sure how I had managed life before the holidays.   The reality is that what last week was, was not my life at all, it was some sort of purgatory.  I feel like we’re back now.  Our band is again playing together…for the most part.  But to keep it in perspective, I feel that a few sour notes every once in a while help you to recognize beautiful music when you hear it!

I was recently mulling over how last week turned into this week.  Clearly, the hours ticked by, but what made the difference?  Why are we all of a sudden able to fall into rhythm with each other?  I always tell my children that the only person they have control over is themselves.  I took a lesson from my own advice, and I have decided (perhaps narcissistically) that the change all began with me.  I feel strongly that my mood anchors our home.  Last week, I was emotionally uncentered, which seemed to cause a distinct wobble in the spinning of our days.  I was defiantly reactive rather than responsive.  I felt the clench of old habits return, feeling overwhelmed and not knowing how to turn things around.  After some thought what ended up helping me to break free from my cycle of self-defeat was seemingly unrelated.  But systems thinking prevails, and I recognize that it was not an isolated event at all.  I spent a day cleaning my closet.

It seems like that task should have had little effect on my overall well-being, but the effects were in fact quite the opposite.  Apart from having some time to get to a project I’ve been wanting to start for a while now, the process of clearing out my darkest space was not just physical.  I got rid of many clothes that no longer fit since the arrival of my third baby and cleared out many clothes I have worn in the past that now hold only outdated purposes.  With each piece discarded, I felt a bit more free.  I believe the stories that accompanied the clothing were bagged up and sent to the basement along with them.  Looking at those items in my closet that no longer fit who I am, or my purpose in life was weighing me down in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

I used the following guiding questions I used in my culling process.  If the answer was no, the item was bagged:

1. Do I like it (fabric, colour, style)?

2. Does it fit well?

3. Is it comfortable?

4. Do I want to wear it?  (if I’ve pulled it out of the closet and put it back, that’s a clear sign I don’t!)

5. Have I worn it in the past year?

A big part of letting items go was recognizing that mistakes happen.  Time to let it all go.  I tried not to feel guilt for things which are now done.  What I can do is accept this feedback and self-regulate for the future.  I can also spend time observing and interacting with my current wardrobe.

I consider my journey to be one of holistic management.  As such, I feel I am far from finishing my closet overhaul.  I have been reading and talking to friends about the 333 project, and aim to create a minimalist wardrobe of mix and match pieces.  My approach will be a bit different than what’s offered on the websites I’ve read, since I am committed to buying used, and see the overabundance of clothing that I already own.  I am considering the building of my ‘capsule wardrobe’ phase two of the process.  For the time being, clearing my closet of what no longer fits me has left me feeling renewed.  The process so far has been like opening the windows for the first time in spring.  I have begun to air out my closets.