Saturday, April 09, 2005

Making Space

I find that one of the biggest challenges I face in life is deciding what to get rid of – in my office, in my attic, in my closet, in my mind, in my heart. When deciding what to pitch out, there are always those lingering questions, “Will I ever really need this again? Even if I don’t need it, will I miss it?” But there is only so much space, and periodically we all must purge in order not to be swallowed up by paper and clothes and things and emotions.

Just yesterday at the office I spent about 2 hours going through a filing cabinet that had seen one-way traffic for a long time. I had continued to put things in without ever needing to access anything in that set of files. When all was said and done, I had eliminated all the files on 2 shelves. Many of the file folders were over 10 years old and had long since passed from my mind. I can say with certainty that none of that information will ever be missed. I plan to continue this office cleanup project so that when I retire (perhaps in the next year or two), I can walk out of the office with just a few mementos and not leave behind a sea of useless paper for whoever takes my place. So maybe I am just working up to a decision to retire. Whatever the motivation for my pitching session, it felt good to get rid of all that stuff!

I feel equally challenged at home. When you live in the same place for almost 30 years, you tend to accumulate a lot of material things. The attic and the basement suddenly become crowded with everyone’s discards that don’t make the trash can. No one else in my household seems to be bothered by clutter, so I am the one who gets to decide what stays and what goes, putting the “keepers” into nicely labeled boxes. They make fun of me for my obsession with organization, but I cringe to think what the attic and basement would look like otherwise.

Growing up I had very few clothes, so there was never the problem that I face now, where to be able to buy new clothes, I need to get rid of some of my old clothes. I usually use the rule of thumb that if I haven’t worn something for 2 years, it goes to the Salvation Army. I wonder how many people I could outfit with all of the clothes I have gotten rid of over the years? Of course, if I had just had the foresight to know, I would have saved my vintage 70's clothes so that my daughter could have worn them and been way cool in high school. Who could ever imagine?

Perhaps the most difficult clean-up project I have taken on was dismantling my parents’ house of 50 years upon my father’s death. He could never bear to throw anything away – literally. He had the plastic wrappers from the newspapers, the boxes his vitamins had been shipped in, the styrofoam trays from his TV dinners – all of them, just thinking there might be some good use for them in his many projects. I’m afraid I threw away some good things while slogging through the mounds of worthless things. I had only 5 days to pull apart and organize an entire lifetime. It was a sad week, with a few happy moments as I chanced upon some things forgotten.

I find that making emotional space is the greatest challenge of all. Feelings don’t tend to wear their labels permanently or stay in the places to which we relegate them. Instead just when I think I have put something in the trash can, it’s back in my head clamoring for my attention. There always has to be enough space for important family loves to flourish, but there must be some left over for friends that come and go and new fascinations with art and music and literature and being creative. Actually this space defies control.


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