Lighten up! 3 Simple Steps to ‘Clean House’

I’ve been feeling crowded and stifled lately, so although it’s not spring, I’ve decided it’s time to do some spring cleaning.

When I was a kid, my mother always scheduled a week or two in the springtime during which she would target rooms in our house for a major sprucing-up. These projects always involved a lot of hard work and each of us four kids was assigned tasks to complete. Many of these spring cleaning projects included drop cloths, cans of paint and brushes or rolls of wallpaper. At the very least everything in the rooms on her list were emptied, vacuumed, shaken, washed, re-organized and put back together.

At the end of these frenzied periods of turmoil, we’d step back to look at the results of our efforts and I remember feeling great satisfaction as well as amazement at the transformations. Frequently, as part of the renovation process, we were required to purge our belongings, to whittle down the accumulation of things, to throw out, re-purpose or donate items we no longer used, needed or wanted anymore.

For me, this was my least favorite part of the process! Unlike my mother, I was a born hoarder. I treasured each trinket or tchotchke, remembering with great feeling the person who gave it to me and the specific occasion it marked. I tucked clothing that no longer fit me or that was out of fashion into the back of my closet, thinking forward to a day when I’d lose weight or that the cycles of style would make it popular again. Every card, letter, journal and school assignment was filed away and boxed, then stacked in corners of the basement.

Never mind that I absolutely hated to dust, clean and organize things; knowing they were “mine” and that they were “there” made the work seem worthwhile.

On the other hand, mom had little tolerance for clutter and collections and so periodically an ultimatum was made and we had to get rid of things. Unwittingly, the times for cleaning and reducing the clutter of a family of six resulted in turning me into a major collector and packrat!

For most of my adult life I’ve hated to throw things out. Being an artist and a crafter I could always envision a purpose – practical or not – for every scrap of ribbon or fabric, every magazine or book, clothing the kids had outgrown, toys or tools that no longer worked. Parting with a piece of furniture, old Christmas ornaments no longer used at the holidays or mismatched dishes was unthinkable because someday my kids would grow up and might be able to make use of them!

Oh, I knew my obsessions were not practical, so I worked hard to be very, very organized – to have it appear as if everything had a place! To anyone looking in, our home appeared charmingly cluttered yet still attractively decorated. But, from time-to-time, especially when it was necessary to delve into closets or drawers to switch clothing seasonally, drag out decorations from the attic for various holidays or haul the summer garden and pool equipment from the garage, I would feel despair about my hoarder leanings and vow to do better!

Six years ago, my 2 daughters and I moved from a 5 bedroom, 3 story house with a three car, 2-story garage, double lot and in-ground pool. I’d begun to feel very inept and often overwhelmed at caring for the place after my husband’s death and often looking at everything left me feeling like I was suffocating in stuff. When I decided to move, I threw myself with a vengeance into the process of reducing our belongings to fit into a smaller space. And despite some heart-wrenching moments, I succeeded.

Once we settled in here, I promised myself that I would not fill every nook and cranny of this home with things. And for awhile, it looked like I’d succeeded.

My daughters are away at college now, and it’s funny but their absence has put my focus on the contents of this house, as opposed to the goings on that once were happening in the house!

I’ve never been a fan of dusting (give me laundry over dusting any day!) but now, as I go from room-to-room dusting, I feel tremendous impatience with all the knick-knacks and photos adorning the tables and shelves. Since I have 3 dogs of greatly varying sizes, NOT dusting every week is simply NOT an option!

A couple weeks ago, as I dusted, I felt overwhelmingly trapped by and impatient with all the furniture, accessories and curios that have accumulated in this past 6 years. Of course, it didn’t help that when my dad died a couple years ago, I brought so many things from his house to mine!

I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, and what I’ve come to realize is this: I’ve changed. Over these many years, I have come to care much less about things. As I’ve lost important people in my life: mother-in-law, mother, husband, stepson, father and a few very dear friends sprinkled in-between, the “stuff” in my life means very little to me anymore. It’s not the things that bring me happiness, contentment, comfort, peace and love. It’s the people.

I no longer want to spend my precious time dusting collectibles, photos and furniture. I want to spend every precious moment doing things that matter to me or spending time with people that matter to me!

I called a friend the other day; she and her husband own an antiques store in town. She was truly pleased to hear from me but when I told her why I was calling, she sounded alarmed. “Is everything okay, Eileen?” she immediately asked. I assured her I was fine, and that I just wanted to “clean house,” simplify and streamline. We made an appointment for her to come over to the house this week and as soon as I hung up the phone, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I’m excited. I feel lighter, less burdened already! I realized that since my husband died over 11 years ago, I’ve been on a journey. Certainly not the journey I’d have chosen had I mapped out my own path, but one I’m very proud to say I’ve traveled with courage and determination. I’ve made mistakes along the way – some really big ones – and most of them I made when I let myself be overly influenced by what others wanted, needed or thought.

I want to dump my regrets, shoulda-woulda-coulda’s, guilt, judgments and people-pleasing in favor of ME! Selfish? You bet!

In one of my favorite poems called The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, she wrote:

I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

Since the first home I decorated 34 years ago, I’ve leaned towards dark furniture, plenty of rich color, intricate patterns and lots of stuff, stuff, stuff everywhere.

Now, I want the opposite! That means lots of white, soft, natural color with plenty of space and light with as few things as possible to demand my attention. I want to uncomplicate my existence, de-clutter my life, and streamline my environment. “Less is more” sounds so good to me now.

I promise to keep you posted on this process as it – and I – evolve. Whew, I feel heady with delight!!

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