Like a lot of others, my husband and I experienced a kind of minimalist awakening this past year after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Like a lot of Americans, we have too much stuff. But I would hazard a guess that we might be mildly to moderately worse than the average family. We’ve never hit our organizational stride as a couple. Ned has borderline hoarding tendencies, and while I was always sufficiently organized before we moved in together, I’ve never figured out how to get my style to mesh well with Ned’s. Add to that the fact that we moved into our house when I was seven months pregnant with our first son, and we have some pretty sizeable organizational disasters to our credit.
Clutter makes my brain itch. I don’t know why it’s such a trigger for me, but seeing the random piles of receipts, broken trinkets, and other junk that accumulate in small piles around our home drives me insane. To the point that clutter is probably the number one thing that stresses us out as a couple. And I’m not even a neat freak. But the clutter represents a lot to me: A lack of having my shit together, the time that I spend looking for things because they don’t get put away, the money we waste buying things we already have because we can’t find anything when we need it. It makes me twitch.
So part of my personal self-care plan has been moving through the organizational projects that have been sitting out there incompleted. We’ve officially stopped using our dining room table as a catch-all for everything from mail to dirty dishes. I finally got the bathroom closet organized that had been filled with random stuff since we moved in almost four years ago. And every time I get through a project I feel emotionally lighter and more put together. My soul sighs with satisfaction.
My most recent project was cleaning out the back room of our basement where I had an assortment of boxes that I’d stored in my parents’ attic. After we moved into our house, my dad dropped them off and I haven’t looked at them since. This past weekend I finally went through them, and as you might suspect about going through stuff that I haven’t needed in four years, most of it (an entire car load, actually) went to St. Vincent de Paul. But I also found a handful of treasures that have been sitting there unappreciated. One is a Welsh spoon from my friend Liz Lincoln. I plan on putting it in my office as a reminder of my sister friends. I also found the china tea cups that were given to me by both my grandmothers, some of which have been handed down through our families.
I find that as I work through these projects, one naturally leads to another. I was motivated to clean out my old boxes, which led to finding my tea cups, which led to wanting a nice place to display them. So yesterday I finally tackled the shelves above our kitchen sink, which have been getting under my skin for some time. They had collected a random assortment of miscellany, from broken garage door openers to half-used packets of garden seeds. The problem is that we don’t have a designated spot for these things, so it’s not as simple as just “putting things away.” It’s a matter of figuring out where “away” is for each of these tiny items. It’s a pain in the ass.
But, with a vision before me of a feminine, zen display for my grandma’s tea cups, I was motivated to get through it. And I did – and I love it!
I love the tea cups because I feel close to my grandmothers when I look at them. One grandmother passed when I was six, so it’s been a long time and the few items I have from her are special. She was an extremely maternal woman, mother to nine and stepmother to three, and I’ve felt very close to her since becoming a mother myself. When I feel frustrated or overwhelmed, I step back and think, “How the hell did Grandma Dort do this with twelve kids?!”
My other grandmother is still alive, and she is the single strongest person I’ve ever known and probably ever will know. When my eyes fall on the miniature china tea cup that my grandfather gave her for an early wedding anniversary, it reminds me of her grace and the limitless fortitude she holds in her tiny wisp of a body. It reminds me of all she’s overcome, including learning how to live without her soul mate after 60+ years of marriage, and it reminds me that strength is part of my inheritance from the generations of women who have come before me.
In addition to my china collection, I included some small crystal containers I found and filled them will salts from the Sacred Door sisterhood circles I attend. It’s nice to have the salts someplace very visible, where their intentions can stay part of my consciousness. I also put out a few herbs, which are both pretty and practical. The plants have been for sale at the grocery store for $2, so it’s not a huge investment if (OK, when) I kill them, but in the meantime the green brightens up the whole kitchen.
Ultimately, it’s not the aesthetic that’s important, although I do like it. The point is that I have a small space established that’s a tiny bit closer to what I’d like to be. It’s simple and feminine and mindful. My brain feels peaceful when I look at it, even if my hands are busy washing dirty dishes. And really, instead of using our space to store a bunch of crap we don’t really care about, wouldn’t it be preferable to utilize it in a way that reflects us emotionally and spiritually? Now, instead of looking at those shelves and feeling frustrated by a bunch of junk, I reflect on my grandmothers and my sister friends and the positive intentions I’ve set for myself.
This was just a small battle, not the war, but the sense of peace I’ve established will be strong motivation for me as I move toward taming my stuff. There is a goddess in all of us, and we need to create a space and homebase where she can thrive.
P.S. For anyone who was feeling “judgy” about my description of how messy my home is, here is what my boys managed to accomplish in just five minutes of me writing this post. Why play with the mountain of toys you have when you could empty the kitchen pantry all over the floor, am I right?