By: D.A. Henneman
I have never considered myself a packrat. I don’t tend to hang on to things beyond their useful purpose, but lately I’m beginning to wonder. In this latest chapter of my life, I am forced to face the fact that there are little bits of me everywhere. While my long-standing excuse is that our house is too small and we have no storage to speak of, the fact-of-the-matter is I am overwhelmed, to the point of inaction, by the amount of junk in my life.
So why keep it? What is it about a broken ornament that hung on the Christmas tree of my youth, or a favorite book of my daughter’s that was read until the pages wore thin? Don’t even get me started on the stacks of books I just can’t bear to part with. While I can’t answer why I’ve kept a particular thing in the past, I can say in all honesty that moving forward… it’s going to change. For me, a quote by Louise Smith sums it up. “You can’t reach for anything new, if your hands are still full of yesterday’s junk.” For me, the time has come to empty my hands.
In my experience, junk isn’t merely physical; it’s also emotional and spiritual. It can be saying “yes” when you really need to be saying “no.” A great deal has happened to me in the last nine years that forces me to take a long hard look at what I keep in my life. While purging the unusable items from my past is necessary, it pales in comparison to the importance of learning how to say “No.”
That single word is, by far, the hardest word in the English language for me to utter and learning how to say it out loud has been life altering. This epiphany, which took me years to realize by the way, was never more apparent than when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It took me getting a life-threatening disease to realize that the life I am living and the things I accumulate in it aren’t nearly as important as my relationships and personal fulfillment. It has taken me until now to unpack the lingering effects of my experience, which is strange to think of, but oddly also makes complete sense.
While the surgery was relatively minor and the radiation over in just shy of two months, it was enough of a wake-up call for me to develop a new attitude; a new way of handing my life moving forward. It was when I drew my first Treasure Map and I decided to embrace my new journey.
Treasure Maps come in all shapes and sizes. Mine is simply a piece of construction paper with lists written in marker and colorful stickers decorating its edges. The lists are categorized and include places I wish to travel, relationships to nurture and dreams I’m striving towards. I hang it in a place where I see it every day and visualize walking on a path that connects me to the things I’ve listed. This practice allows me to direct my focus on things that are profoundly important; the relationships that mean the most to me. This is the greatest gift I could have given myself, the ability to say “no” to the things that won’t bring me happiness, or that I haven’t listed as a priority in my life, and a resounding “yes” to the things that fulfill me.
Saying “no” to the physical clutter in my life has been a process. Most of our family clutter is in a storage facility, with a sprinkling of items in my mother’s garage and my friend’s basement. The accumulation from a flower shop I owned, furniture from loved ones passing on, and toys that my children outgrew, can’t be contained in the 10’ x 10’ space I pay rent for every month. While my intent was to leave our clutter at these places on a temporary basis, it has been nearly impossible to whittle my things down to a manageable amount with the current demands in my life.
It is evident that my junk has overstayed its welcome and something must be done. My most recent treasure map outlines the desire to consolidate everything into one location; a task which I can happily say has been started. Since the rental space is small, it requires me to think about what is important to keep and what isn’t. What I don’t keep gets donated and knowing that it will be given to someone who really needs it, helps me to let it go. As I empty space in the unit, I consolidate our items from other areas, only storing those things we have a planned use for. The rest of it goes!
Saying “no” to the emotional clutter is a bit harder to manage, but not impossible. For me, being a “yes” girl has created a situation where I am reliable and trustworthy, both admirable traits but stressful for a person who habitually bites off more than they can chew. When someone asks me to participate, help or spend my “free” time doing something, I now ask myself, “Will this enhance my life? Does this bring me a step closer to something on my Treasure Map?” If the answer is no… then so is mine.
With emotional clutter, the hardest thing for me to overcome is the guilt I feel when telling someone “no.” In my journey to eliminate clutter, this has been by far, the most difficult thing to do. Yet, I must admit, it has also been the most rewarding. The time that I have freed up by saying “no”, has allowed me to invest myself; to focus on my interests. By having time to do the things I love, the stress in my life has been greatly reduced.
My spiritual clutter is the easiest for me to clear out since getting cancer has given me great drive and focus. Would I have liked to say “no” to cancer? Absolutely! Without a doubt! But, since I couldn’t I chose to look at my diagnosis and everything that has happened since as a gift. Probably one of the greatest I have ever received. Living through the fear has given me my soul back, the inherent piece of me that was lost while focusing on what others felt I needed to be doing. It directed me back to my passion, which I thought was long dead, and focused my efforts in such a way that I find fulfillment, while still doing what is needed to survive. Could I have more time in my life, nicer things, or a newer place to live? Sure… we all probably could, but those needs no longer tie me down and prevent me from doing what I love. Those things no longer define me.
More than likely I will hang onto that broken ornament from my childhood and all my daughter’s favorite books; some memories need reminders, especially with an aging mind. However, moving forward, I will continue to purge things in my life that aren’t on my Treasure Map, just as I have done since the announcement that I was in remission. For me, it’s about the journey. It’s about the path you travel to reach the piece of yourself that yearns for you to connect to it. Everything else? Well, I’ll call it like I see it. Its yesterday’s junk.