Cleaning Out Our Life Closet

I would like to thank everyone for your kind comments on my last post. I know it’s been a while, and though writing this blog is always on my mind, I felt I just needed to be quiet a while and ponder, and read, and reconnect with the things that matter most in life. My aunt’s passing was an awakening of sorts. Death has a way of making you re-evaluate your own life and ask the hard questions: Am I living my best life? Am I doing what brings me joy? And if I passed away today, what would my legacy be? I wish I could say that I’ve come to some amazing conclusions during my absence but there’s nothing new about my desire to live simply, intentionally, and as lightly as possible. Being mindful and meditating on those thoughts has only brought them closer to the surface and it is with that, that I pick back up writing today.

On a particularly tearful day last month, I told Angie that I was dissatisfied with some of the routines we’d let ourselves fall into, particularly the habit of eating breakfast while working and watching YouTube over lunch. Though we have learned a lot from the gardeners and adventurers that we’ve watched on YouTube, it felt to me that we were subbing in these videos for actual connection and adventures of our own. So we stopped. We sold my desk (again), folded up the makeshift dining/craft table we were using in the dining room, and bought a real table from a posting on our apartment’s e-bulletin board for $25. For the past several weeks, we’ve eaten breakfast and lunch together, without entertainment. Some of those meals have even stretched into long conversations and inspiring idea sessions.

During one such session, we were talking about mental clutter and time clutter. Offhandedly I made the statement that “our life closet was in need of decluttering, much like our actual closet once was” and so the idea of decluttering our life closet was born. What is a life closet? I suppose you might say it’s all the non-physical things that take up space in our hearts, our minds, and sometimes even on our calendars. It’s the baggage we carry around simply because we think we’re supposed to, like routines we’ve become accustomed to but no longer enjoy, and it’s the stuff that holds us back from living the life we want, like negative thoughts or feelings of not doing or being enough.

To get started, we pictured an empty closet, with all of the stuff that once was inside removed, and asked ourselves: if life were an empty closet and you had to fill it today, using only those things that brought you joy (think Marie Kondo here), what would you keep? What would you let go of? And what are you undecided about? We each took a piece of paper and the morning to contemplate our own thoughts. After lunch, we reconvened to share our lists and make one of our own. It looked like this:

KEEPDISCARDUNDECIDED
Morning coffee/reading timeSunday as our dedicated house cleaning daySocial Media
Weekly meal prep/planningDebtSpanish lessons
Family timeProcrastinating on important issuesVolunteering
Outdoor playNew purchases that aren’t a true necessityGardening
Earning moneyGetting another petMowing
Saturday morning yard sales/thriftingStore hopping for groceries
Buying local/U-pick produceBuying from Amazon
LetterboxingStressing out about things we can’t control
Travel & adventures
Individual hobbies

Our keep list is pretty self-explanatory: we want to keep all of the things in our life that bring us happiness or enable us to pursue those things without worry (ie. earning money, which we’ll talk more about in another post). It was the discard list that surprised us at bit. While we’ve been on the same page about not going into debt, not buying “stuff” without purpose, and not getting another pet (right now), neither of us knew that the other hated our Sunday morning cleaning routine and that “store hopping” for the best deals got on both of our nerves. We were doing these things out of habit and because we each thought the other of us liked to do it that way.

As for our undecided list, this might seem to most folks to be filled with keepers but for us, some of these things have become a burden. Social media is a huge waste of time. Gardening is something we love but can’t do in the way we want right now because we live in an apartment and no longer have access to a gardening space. (My mom began to get stressed last summer with our garden being in her yard, so we opted not to have it there this year.) Spanish lessons were fun, but the app, with it’s daily notifications and pressure to keep up a “streak”, took the fun right out. Volunteering, again is something we love to do, but have had to cancel on several times already this year because of other obligations. And then there’s mowing…

We’ve been mowing my mom’s yard for 5 years now, and in the beginning, this was the only ongoing chore that she needed help with. Now, that has changed, and I’m finding myself helping more and more with household chores as well (and since she has opted to no longer drive, a part of my time is also dedicated to taking her to appointments and shopping too). Because of this, we have been considering the option of hiring someone to mow. Mowing is not a hard chore, it is just a time consuming one, and what takes us 3 hours would take a pro just 45 minutes (at a cost of $40/week). The problem here is that my mom sees this as “we don’t want to do it”, not that we’re trying to shift our time to help in different ways. She’s completely against the idea and that’s why this particular item went in the undecided column and not the discard pile from the start.

At the end our our discussion that day, we decided 1) keeping or discarding social media would be an individual decision, 2) we would look for an alternative to the app for Spanish lessons and continue when we were ready, 3) we would garden at home on the patio and windowsill, 4) we would forego volunteering for now, and 5) we would try again to talk to my mom about the mowing. The last one has yet to happen (and today is mowing day).

Just like decluttering a physical closet, decluttering your life closet isn’t always easy. There are some decisions that my be deferred on the first go-round, but eventually (I hope), the end result will be a life filled with only those things we have personally chosen to be there. And as for not stressing out…well, that’s a definite work in progress, for which I believe this decluttering process is a good first step.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Are there things in your life closet that you want to get rid of? Things you’d like to add if you had the space? And is there a good/better/best way to approach an aging parent with things they don’t want to talk about?

18 thoughts on “Cleaning Out Our Life Closet

  1. I like your idea of the mind closet.

    For me, just over the last 2 years has changed a lot for me and its been difficult, with further new adjustments this year. So my mind closet is not something I can answer straight away, fully, just yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Melody, I was just thinking yesterday that I hadn’t heard from you in a while, then I looked back in my reader, and here you are!
    My condolences on the passing of your aunt. DEaths are such emotional crisises to deal with.
    Decluttering your life closet is a fantastic idea!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Melody. Thank you for this post. I agree. It’s very sensible and necessary to reevaluate periodically where our resources – time, money and energy (mental and physical) – are being spent and if this aligns with our overall priorities.
    I hope you don’t mind if I share some thoughts I had about the garden:
    – could you have a trial period of privately re-framing the activity for yourselves as part of an outdoor adventure or a fitness challenge, then see how you feel after that? It could feel more constructive if it has an additional objective.
    – Might it be worth looking for a person advertising for a skills exchange? You listed volunteering in your ‘undecided’ section. What if there were someone locally who could mow your mum’s lawn in a more efficient manner than you can (say, an hour) in exchange for learning or receiving something from you? Then your mum gets her lawn mowed, plus you get the reward of giving to someone else in the community too.
    – Must the lawn be mowed? In the UK we just had No Mow May, as an initiative to help bees and flowers. Could your mum’s lawn be reinvented as a No Mow area instead, with long grasses and wild flowers, maybe just tidied around the edges or with a walkway through to appreciate the butterflies etc? https://www.plantlife.org.uk/uk/about-us/news/how-to-mow-your-lawn-for-wildlife

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Helen! These suggestions are great. I especially love the idea of not mowing, at least for part of the summer. I’d have to look into our city ordinances to see what’s allowed here, but wild flowers would be wonderful.

      We still very much enjoy gardening and even looked for a community garden plot nearby but had no success. If the opportunity comes that we can garden again, we definitely will…it just won’t be at my mom’s house (at least not now). As the summer wore on last year, she became more and more agitated with us spending so much time in the garden and we decided it best to take some time off (for our sanity and hers).

      I’m really intrigued by the idea of a skill exchange. This could be a real solution. And it doesn’t involve money, which is always good in my book! I’m going to put some thought into this.

      Thank you again!

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  4. I’m also in the habit of eating in front of my computer whilst typically watching something on Youtube… it’s like “double absorbing” (food and media). I actually considered it was more beneficial to eat away from such distractions and focus on the food I was eating, but alas I’ve not been able to break my habit (I live on my own, so that probably doesn’t help).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear you! It was a harder habit to break than we thought too. We called them “learning lunches” as a way to make it seem like watching something was a good use of our lunch hour. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, but we definitely feel more present now that we’re not distracted when we are eating lunch. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Going through this process would promote living mindfully. And to do it right would take time. I will be thinking about what we do and the value of those habits in our life. Regarding the mowing – could there be a compromise? Perhaps once a month at first – or every other time. Then perhaps your mom would see that you are not wanting to help her, just that you are helping her with other things. Hey mom, lets ….. since I don’t have to mow this week. Just an idea. And then over time, the frequency could increase. Thanks for you very thoughtful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this idea, will definitely be looking at my routine and checking in with why I’m doing certain things. One thing I’ve tried is moving the mundane chores to a weekday night as it feels like it’s cutting into your time less (supermarket shopping is now on a Thursday night but I enjoy the fresh food market on Saturday mornings).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great idea too! It’s much easier to do a few things in those last hours of the day than it is to spend an entire day doing the shopping, laundry, cleaning, or other chores. Thank you for commenting!

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  7. I’m still a work in progress as far as finding my new normal since my mom passed and getting her house and hoardings gone. However your mom resembles mine almost as if they were related. My moms reactions to any chore I didn’t have time for, gardening in her yard brought same reaction as your moms. Why? I still don’t know or understand it. But I will suggest that you stand your ground. Otherwise you might become as run down as I did by trying to do “everything” just to shut her up. Yes I did this for years, sometimes not getting back to my house until late at night because I checked on her before work, drive 22 miles to work, stopped by after work only to get ready to leave then she starts her “ can you do……” by time I was done it was late and still had to eat etc, before bed time. Rinse and repeat for several years. Please don’t do this to yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh how you hit the nail on the head here! Every time I say that I’m not going to do something, I find myself being sucked into doing it. That sense of guilt that goes with saying no overwhelms me to the point that self-care is a distant second (third, fourth, etc…) to her needs. I am trying my hardest to resist the rinse/repeat cycle but it is difficult, difficult, difficult. Therapy has helped only a minor bit, as the therapist refused to acknowledge my mom’s narcissism – saying it was her difficulty adjusting to aging (I think not!) – but she did recommend some reading that I found helpful. Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist by Maralis Fjelstad says that mothers with BP/NP disorders expect their children to obey them as if they were 12 years old and that once you take on a chore for them, there’s no letting it go, even if you have a very important reason for doing so. I wish I had known these things years ago. I would have hired a landscaper from the get-go. I’m so sorry you had to go through this as well and I really appreciate the insight you give me. Thank you!!

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