Note from Rachel: This is a guest post from my friend Jennifer, a real life friend in fact! We’ve known each other almost 20 years now. Jennifer is on her own minimalist journey, one that led her to liberate her library and delve into other clutter problem areas.
Energized by the changing seasons, I decided to tackle my craft dresser. I have a large upright chest of drawers filled to the brim with fabric and craft supplies. Following best practices, I unloaded everything drawer by drawer, piling like items with like. I designated keep/toss/donate piles. Then I exercised some tough love, sorting out long-unused fabric for donation.
And that’s when my good intentions were blown apart.
In the bottom drawer, at the very bottom of the stack, is material I purchased for baby quilts. Still crisp with sizing are fabrics I lovingly selected and carried from home to home for the last 15 years.
I bought this fabric and stitched it together with hopes and dreams. But like many people, my life hasn’t been the linear storybook I’d planned. Instead, my path has been twisted and turned by failed relationships, relocations, changing jobs, and health concerns. I have not had children and, given my circumstances, am unlikely to do so.
My practical self told me it’s time to let the baby quilts go.
My peace-maker self offered a gentler solution, reminding me that the quilts would make nice gifts for family and friends. Then I’m not “throwing away” those hopes and dreams, but instead letting them warm someone else’s child and, in the meantime, the fabric could stay in the drawer. My peace-maker self has a strong rationalization streak.
And my grieving self howled at the unfairness of it all.
Switching my attention to a trunk at the foot of the guest bed revealed more landmines. My christening gown, hand-made and hand-embroidered, with tiny gossamer accessories was tucked into its custom case next to two boxes of baby clothes, things my mother saved for me. Then there were hand-crocheted blankets made by long-dead female relatives — I could imagine how each was given to my mother along with stories about labor and colic. The collection was rounded out by dresses worn for childhood Christmas programs and a pile of toys.
So many, many things I thought would be in use by now. A whole identity in storage.
In my experience, decluttering is as much a healing exercise as it is housekeeping. Often we keep things because of the emotional content rather than the functionality. When we question the functionality of an item, we may unintentionally confront that emotional load. Maybe your clutter landmine isn’t baby quilts but a wedding dress, sports gear left idle since “the accident,” or a deceased loved one’s belongings.
You can integrate minimalist practices as part of your healing process. Apply the 5 Whys to sentimental items. If embracing a cause and volunteering helps meet your emotional need, then do that rather than holding onto objects. My own little version of cognitive-behavioral therapy — engaging in rational self-talk peppered with positive affirmations – helps me let go. You can also hold a ceremony, journal about the items, or take photos as part of your process.
It’s okay if your healing — and decluttering — is small. It can be incremental. It can be the best you’re capable of right now.
Here’s what I did. I kept two quilt tops. I kept the christening gown with a note from my grandmother tucked in its folds. I kept the worn-through moccasins my mother hand-made and beaded for me. I couldn’t do it all, not this time. But the piles of baby flannel and pastel fleece and ‘70s-era layette sets went to donation.
I didn’t feel triumphant as I often do after a good decluttering, but I did feel unexpected relief. I’m not at peace, but I think peace is possible. And I acknowledge that I’m not done yet. There’s still more work to be done in my home and in my heart.
What’s that saying? “I’m not telling you it is going to be easy, but I’m telling you it is going to be worth it.”
And it is.
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