Hunting pheasants in North and South Dakota taught me a number of lessons. One that stands out is seeing the birds poop right as they take flight, just off the ground. The first time I saw a bird do that I thought we just scared the stuffing out of him, reasonably so. But then I kept seeing it as birds launched out of the grass and into flight. You need to let your stuff go if you are going to take off and fly.
Two years ago, I moved into my little duplex and decided that the small two bedroom, one bathroom space provided more than enough for me and Bella (and Flinkie at the time). I would not use my garage for storage nor pay for storage space.
My move to Rapid City resulted from my layoff. I planned to build a life with that oil company and the layoff felt more like a break-up than the ending of several of my past relationships. As traumatic as forced change is, it gives us a chance to make radical course corrections. And I wanted out from under the years of stuff (emotional and material) I had been carrying.
On one of my trips from North to South Dakota, I listened to Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo’s book allowed her readers to unload their “too much,” finally giving ourselves space to breathe and rest.
Kondo starts with decluttering clothing because it should have the least amount of emotional attachment. Per her recommendation, I piled all my clothes — every single item — onto my bed and set to work. Six hours and a couple hundred pounds of clothing later, I finished.
Looking at that massive pile going to the Salvation Army, I thought, I don’t want to do this anymore. I hauled around articles of clothing that I hadn’t worn in years because someone meaningful gave me that piece. It may have been out of date, out of size, out of place, but I carried it with me. I do not want to be the keeper of grief and heartbreak, like some emotional martyr. It is too much.
From May to mid-June I worked methodically touching every piece in my home. It took me six weeks, but I sifted the clothing, kitchenware, office gadgets, bathroom supplies, and even books. Cleared out, restful, and breathable, everything in my little space gave me joy. I only had my memorabilia left. More than twenty years crammed in boxes, plastic containers, and bags: cards, letters, and bits and pieces of my history gasping for breath. Sifting the memorabilia would not bring me joy. All I could see was the sad.
The memorabilia sat in boxes for two years. Then, in August the sight of all that unfinished business goaded me into action. I dumped it all on my office floor. Then, I gave the boxes and containers away so I wouldn’t stuff it all back in and hide it again. Then, I shut the door to my office and ignored it for a couple months.
Monday, I started sifting in earnest. Keith Richards wrote in his book, Life, that in music the most important notes are the notes left unplayed. Stephen King made a similar comment about words and writing. Too many notes, too many words and we lose the beauty of the piece in the clutter.
Clearing out the bits and pieces, the cards and notes, the stuffing, I do not see the sad like I thought I would. I do not see a life full of what-ifs and could-have-beens. A life of observation and participation emerged. A life of love and fun and creativity made its way past the the stuff. Joy hid in the spaces.