Saturday, May 5, 2012

Spring Cleaning's "Aha! Moment"

4/25/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

This spring I had what Oprah Winfrey calls an “Aha!” Moment.” Now in Oprah’s world, those are profound, unforgettable times when suddenly your world changes as you connect-the-dots, recognize the solution to a problem and become a wiser, better person because you know how to proceed in life.

My “Aha! Moment” was more mundane. In fact, it was pretty utilitarian. It simply involved spring-cleaning.

I looked around at my house one fine spring day and said, “This place is a cluttered mess. I’ve got to get organized.”  The problem was simple—too much stuff. The solution was more complicated because in many ways—I live with the past and I hate letting go.

My Depression era mentality doesn’t like to let go of things that have history, touch my heart, aren’t torn, worn, broken, out of style or could possibly be used or re-fashioned. In other words, I like to hold on to my stuff and anything made of memories.

Over time, my collections become my friends. I can remember exactly where I purchased that little green vase that is perched way at the back of the cupboard (at a garage sale). I keep it because looks great with daffodils on St. Patrick’s Day. The extra teacups, candlesticks and knick-knacks serve much the same questionable purpose but all are safely stored away for emergencies…

I fully realized how much stuff I had collected when I ran into a storage problem in the kitchen. Suddenly I had too many dishes, glassware, pots n pans and utensils—but not enough room in the kitchen cabinets. They were all packed to the gills. I had to de-clutter. The question was—where do I begin?

Completely clueless, I swallowed my pride and called my decorator friend and said, “Help!” She giggled and intimated that she had been waiting for my call. Evidently my glass front cabinets weren’t hiding any secrets.

Her first question to me was, “Do you really need 22 dinner plates in that cupboard?” And so it went until I grudgingly agreed to remove the excess stuff and pack it away for our next garage sale. Now the shelves are artfully arranged and they no longer look like Old Mrs. Hubbard’s cupboards.

Next I tackled the refrigerator doors. Over a period of years, our grandsons have sent us multiple photos of themselves playing various sports. All of them were dutifully posted on the frig. As the kids aged, so did the photos. I love pictures but there was no more room in the inn. What to do?

I finally bit the bullet, took an afternoon off and put the photos in albums, leaving only ONE photo of each child on the frig. Now when the boys come their pictures are still on display and when I die their photos will all be in one place for them to cherish!

I did the same thing with the growing number of framed photos on the wall in my office. I had hung so many pictures that it looked liked the “Wanted” posters at the post office. Now there is only one picture of each family with a few smaller ones on a display table. (I just can’t go cold turkey…).

Pictures are personal and usually keepers. Other things are not. So I started asking myself these questions: Are you collecting or hoarding? Will you really ever use that again? How about just temporarily putting it away? Will you miss it?

Walking around the house, I noticed that my teddy bear collection was beginning to reach epic toy store proportions. I started collecting bears for the boys to play with when they were small. Now I was the only one playing with them!

I decided the lonesome bears needed new homes and kids to play with. I filled two 35-gallon garbage bags with dozens of collectible rag dolls, Beanie Babies and teddy bears of all sizes. Then I donated them to the Relief Nursery. Some of the bears were sneaky and hid in the closet. Now we have baby bears and it’s time to do it again.

Along with hoarding teddy bears, my linen closet tells me that I have been hoarding out-of-date tablecloths, placemats, worn towels, blankets, quilts and more. I am very rich in linens that don’t fit anything or go anywhere. Why am I keeping them? They gotta go!

The hardest thing to let go of was cards, notes and letters. Coming from the era of pen and paper correspondence, I had stuffed dozens of large manila envelopes with cherished notes dating back to the 1950s. It was ridiculous to keep all of them. So I began to weed.

It took me several days to go through the envelopes. Eventually I decided not to keep any generic store-bought cards that were signed, “Love, XXX.” That lightened the load considerably. But I kept most of the hand written letters from family and friends in special boxes to read and re-read. They are the true treasures of my heart.

Now here’s my new mantra that gives me permission to yearly get rid of the old stuff that’s weighing me down: “Choosing what you want to live with will give you a clear sense of who you are now—as opposed to who you were five or ten years.” Wisdom from author Xorin Balbes

I like that. In fact, I got so inspired that I went upstairs and cleaned out my cosmetics drawer. Now I really have a sense that I’m not who I was five or ten years ago!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. 

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