The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t.
It was November 1998. Tom and I had just listed out the household items that we were dividing between the two of us. We were getting a divorce. He got the leather lounge chair with the matching ottoman, the good blender, and our best set of knives. I kept the master bedroom furniture, the new sofa, and the dishes we got for our wedding 13 years prior. He took the new Acura. I kept all of my flea-market treasures.
He moved to an apartment and signed off on the deed to the house we had owned together for only 3 months.
We had moved to my hometown with the renewed hope to start a family there. But over the course of 3 short months, that dream disintegrated. It wasn’t our first marital separation but it was destined to be our last.
I went for coffee with fellow Sidetracked Sister, Judy, to hash out the recent events and get sympathy.
I don’t remember much of our time together, but one comment turned out to be profound and prophetic.
Whining about the fact that I was NOT looking forward to living alone, I didn’t want to be divorced. I liked being married, even if that marriage wasn’t perfect. I actually wished that I had someone in the wings that I was interested in that I could pursue a relationship with. But I didn’t.
Envisioning snuggly nights with my golden retriever watching rom/coms and sharing popcorn, I figured I would just hunker down, work on giving my new/old home a facelift and continue to throw myself into my career.
Judy listened to my grumbling and responded that “we weren’t that kind of people”. She contended that we WERE the kind of people that wholeheartedly devoted ourselves to whatever and whoever we committed to at that time. We didn’t overlap relationships. We are faithful and dedicated until the end. But…(and this is the thing)…
When the relationship IS over, it’s important to clean out and create space. Space for new interests, new activities, new people.
Clean out and create space
So, when Tom moved out, he took a small U-Haul of stuff. He cleaned out his dresser drawers but left random junk in the walk-in closet. That was where I went first.
I removed everything that was specifically his and then some. Old wire hangers. Emply Rubbermaid bins with missing lids. Cardboard shoeboxes filled with random shit.
I left drawers empty.
The closet empty.
His shelf in the bathroom–empty.
So here are 4 suggestions to consider when you are in a transition period of life:
1. Get rid of the paraphernalia of BEFORE
I followed this rule when I retired from teaching last year. I had 30 years of books, games, and STUFF that I had personally purchased for my classroom or stolen from home. Did I want to haul it all home again or move it to storage in our garage? NO!
How about selling it at a garage sale? Well, I’ve been to numerous garage sales held by retired teachers and been overwhelmed and thankful by the amazing resources they were getting rid of for dimes and quarters. Precious books, learning games, and classroom decorations being sold for pennies on the dollar. Those women had put in a LOT of work for only a few bucks! This is not how I wanted to spend my time purging my stuff. So…
I saw an opportunity when a young woman (who was one of my past student teachers) contacted me to offer congratulations on my upcoming retirement and offering to help move my stuff. In gratitude for her offer, I gave her 99% of my personal book collection and anything else that she thought she could put to good use. I figured that she could give the materials a good home at the private school where she was beginning her teaching career.
Instead of my garage filled with boxes of children’s books taking up space and getting old and dusty, I was able to help someone get a little ahead.
2. Leave space
Just because you have room after purging…it doesn’t mean that you have to fill it. Case in point: When I taught 6-year-olds, I NEEDED two drawers for socks. I had socks with pumpkins, elves, candy hearts and smiley faces, tights with butterflies, and even rainbow striped leggings thrown in the mix.
In the year since leaving teaching, I didn’t wear any of these. They all went in the trash and I organized the remainder Marie Kondo style (folded into a square packet and stored upright). These fit in one drawer.
The other drawer is empty.
And that is okay.
3. Start small
Transforming ANYTHING can be overwhelming. Sometimes even the thought of beginning can be tooooo much. Take my kitchen for example. Right now, I’m sure that there are unopened boxes of couscous and year-old bags of unused stuffing mix in the back of my pantry. The shelves that make up the space are deep, too deep. They are able to camouflage and conceal numerous cans of mushroom soup, a wok, empty unused canisters, and dozens of other unknown items. But this space overwhelms. this is NOT where to start!
Instead, I began with the glasses cupboard. I took everything out first. Then sorted glasses onto the bottom shelf, liquid measuring cups and mugs on the middle shelf, and wine glasses and small cups on the topmost shelf.
I purged all plastic cups and mugs with advertising.
Are you feeling the momentum as the success builds?
4. Break a big job into smaller tasks
I was at my mom’s house and noticed that the counter was covered in items that used to be in the nearby secretary. The same items were there for several days. Unmoved. Untouched. Unorganized.
When I asked my mom about eh mess, she said that she just needed to organize the items before re-storing them. Sounds good, but she looked frustrated.
I began sorting into piles of paper. Pens/pencils. stapler supplies, rubber bands…Little piles and a lot of garbage.
Then I tested the writing instruments. Out went the dry ones, the crunchy fine line markers, and pencils with hardened rubber erasers. The remainder easily fit in their black storage cup.
Little bits. Pile by pile. Categories were made and sorted. Junk was discarded and homes were created for shnibbles of rubber bands, paperclips, and thumbtacks.
It’s been over 20 years since Judy and I talked about making space in your life for new things. What I’ve discovered is this: The best time to purge and organized is during times of transition, times of change, times of growth.
What are you holding onto that you need to let go of?
Where can you create space for the new?
How can you break a big organizing job into smaller, manageable tasks?
Whether you are looking to begin a new chapter in life, looking for love, trying to lose weight, or jump-start a new business…begin by getting rid of the stuff that no longer serves you.
Maybe you need to let go of a relationship. Maybe it’s time to move on from that pair of green socks with dancing leprechauns or that coffee mug that your real estate agent gave you that boasts “Home is better with Ray Renolds!”
Clean out and don’t forget to leave some space.