Category: Decluttering & Simplicity

Even While Waiting for Spring

Even While Waiting for Spring

“It’s another lovely winter day.”

“Don’t spend too much time in the hot sun!”

These are typical greetings I hear every day as we wait for Spring to arrive in all its glory and for Winter to release its stronghold. Spring certainly is taking its time this year.

Yesterday morning, I was mindful of what I needed most of all before heading to work: a nice, vigorous power-walk. I had hoped to get my walk in before the rain came, but it started raining a few minutes after I started walking. However, I had an umbrella with me and a warm enough coat, so I kept walking.

There’s a choice in moments like that to feel grumpy about having to walk in the cold rain. You might even choose to stop walking and go home. Get out of the cool, damp weather. Or you could feel empowered and unbothered by the weather and have a lovely walk despite the rain…as I did. Not that anyone who feels grumpy about the persistent “wintry weather” and ice-covered windshields would want to hear my Susie Sunshine story. But I felt good about giving myself the gift of what I needed most that morning and knew I’d feel better at work because of it and because I didn’t allow myself to make excuses and not exercise.

I also thought about how nice a hot shower would feel when I’m done walking. 

And felt grateful that I could take a shower.

I thought about the homeless population I see every day at the library. If anyone has a right to complain about how long it’s taking for Spring to arrive this year, it’s them. Surely, they’d appreciate being able to come inside from the cold weather and take a hot shower at will.

I felt truly grateful for having hot, running water and a bathroom with a shower. 

The night before, I watched the documentary, Minimalism, which is about decluttering our lives and living with less stuff because “less is more”. I recently completed the requirements for Clutter Clearing Coaching certification and also became a Certified Feng Shui Consultant, so the documentary was right up my alley and very inspiring. An interview with a couple who lives in a “tiny home” helped me to reframe my small (by today’s standards), one-bathroom home built nearly 200 years ago (when people didn’t have nearly as much stuff) as an exciting decluttering challenge. I thought I did a good job last year of getting rid of stuff, but after watching the movie and looking around my home, I realize I can do more.

The documentary reminded me that I have so much more than enough, even though every home I go into for clutter coaching and feng shui seems so much nicer and more spacious than mine.

Of course, it’s not about the amount of space or stuff you have but whether your space and your stuff reflects your values. Having all your possessions fit into a couple of carry-on bags might represent freedom, resourcefulness, and empowerment to one person and disempowerment and unworthiness to another. Someone who values caring for the environment might not be drawn to a large home that takes up a lot of space and requires more energy to heat, cool, and maintain it, whereas someone who values entertaining and hosting holiday celebrations would be unlikely to live in a small home with tiny rooms like mine.

I started thinking about gratitude and my relationship with abundance. I wondered: When is gratitude for what you have an “abundance block” vs. a virtue? 

The late Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote:

“Refuse to allow yourself to have low expectations about what you’re capable of creating. As Michelangelo suggested, the greater danger is not that your hopes are too high and you fail to reach them; it’s that they’re too low and you do.”

During my walk, I felt like I was balancing on a tightrope between gratitude (for what I have) and poverty mindset (being content with what I have because others have so much less). It’s that line I wanted to be more mindful of and understand better. Can I or should I be content with living in a small, one-bathroom home with hot, running water and no usable storage space? It seems foolish to underestimate the value of hot, running water when so many people in the world and even in my affluent hometown don’t have such ready access to it. Does feeling such gratitude for simple pleasures like that prevent me from having higher expectations about what I can create in my life – for instance, a home with more spacious rooms and usable space?

I guess I didn’t want to get stuck or limited by gratitude. But how silly is that? As I continued to walk, I felt an answer coming to me: To feel gratitude for the little things while also feeling a sense of true abundance and worth. 

It doesn’t matter how much stuff you have relative to anyone else. Comparing yourself to others is not the answer. Feeling abundant and prosperous is what matters. Feeling that you are enough and have enough, whatever your situation is. I think that is a useful mindset for discovering what you’re really capable of.

In other words, gratitude and appreciation are not abundance blocks. What matters is how abundant you feel. When you feel appreciative, but a feeling of “not enough-ness”, unworthiness, or lack creeps in, that is the culprit that needs attention. 

So the feeling I’m going for is appreciation for what I have without clinging to it or craving more. A sense of being and having enough and not comparing myself to others – feeling bad about having more than some or not nearly as much as others.

Gratitude is such a powerful mindset. When you are filled with gratitude for what you already have, it produces joy and the abundance mindset and energy boost for continuing to follow your bliss. It leads to more of the same and natural expansion (which may or may not have anything to do with material possessions).

On the other hand, feeling bad about the home you live in, the weather, etc. produces a sense of lack that drains your energy and makes it harder to follow your bliss because bliss becomes out of reach. Dr. Dyer suggested “being peaceful, radiating love, practicing forgiveness, being generous, respecting all life, and most important, visualizing yourself as capable of doing anything you can conceive of in your mind and heart.” Playing the victim of weather or circumstance is disempowering. Being grateful for what you have without any feelings of lack puts the wind back in your sails and empowers you to play with greater possibilities.

It’s like having gratitude for the weather, even when it still feels much more like Winter than Spring in mid-April. Taking a walk anyway and being outdoors noticing the birdsong and legions of daffodils that will bloom in time. Not today, but don’t let that diminish your feeling of enough-ness in this moment. Finding beauty in a cluster of crocuses that are still closed, but the raindrops look so beautiful on them, and the image is simply perfect just as it is right now, and you wouldn’t dare or even think to ruin the poetry of the moment with thoughts of how cold it is.

Feeling appreciative and joyful about that rather than grumpy because Spring hasn’t arrived yet in all its gloryHaving a spring in your step and going about your business with joy in your heart, rather than waiting for the arrival of Spring or “more than this” to feel good.

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Advanced Decluttering: Tackling Inherited Clutter

Advanced Decluttering: Tackling Inherited Clutter

Is it just me, or do you find yourself feeling acutely aware of what was going on a year ago at this time? As we orbit the sun, it’s like we travel through the same place in space where the ghosts of yesteryear linger. It makes me think of tree rings. Another orbit around the sun, and last year’s ring is still within reach and pulsing with energy that pulls you in.

Last year at this time, I was really deep into my epic clutter-clearing journey. I decluttered the entire house, leaving no spoon, paper, or screwdriver untouched. Today, I am immensely grateful to last year’s Susan for embarking on that transformational journey. My living space feels entirely different now. There’s no more clutter! I don’t even have a junk drawer anymore! Everything – absolutely everything – my eyes rest upon in my home is there because is serves a purpose or brings me joy. If I didn’t love it or use it, I got rid of it. I walk around the house all the time now marveling about how incredible the energy feels. My living space supports my vision of who I want to be and is no longer bogging me down and holding me back.

After finishing the house, I decluttered my car, my computer, and so much else. Around May, I turned my attention to the storage unit I rented for my parents’ possessions after selling their house. I thought I’d start with family photos and brought home three plastic tubs of them. Although I had the best of intentions, when the warm weather set in, my attention was drawn away from the photo tubs, and they remained in the corner ever since. 

A couple weeks ago, I was overtaken by the urge to clutter-clear once again. Only there wasn’t much to declutter because I’d already done that thoroughly and haven’t reverted at all because I got to the heart of my relationship to the clutter and addressed it at the core. The way it felt after decluttering motivated me to prevent the creation of new clutter.

However, the three boxes in the corner called to me, so I rolled up my sleeves and got started.

My Grandfather’s Pictures

I began with photographs of my paternal grandfather and his family of origin and pulled out the family tree he drew up for me in his impeccably neat handwriting. As I cross-referenced old photos and relationships with the family tree, it occurred to me that it was February 19th: my grandfather’s birthday! He would have been 111. I celebrate my mom’s and grandmother’s birthdays by making their signature recipes, and going through old family photos with the family tree close by seemed like the perfect way to spontaneously celebrate my grandfather’s birthday. What a great way to kick off this new round of decluttering!

I spent the morning going through lots of pictures from his life and wrote names on the back of any pictures that didn’t have them already. My grandfather was the eldest of 12 children. He and one of his brothers emigrated from England to Schenectady, NY in 1921, when my grandfather was 14, to live with their grandfather, who came over several years prior. My grandfather only has one living sibling: his youngest brother, Ralph, in British Columbia. I adore my great-uncle Ralph and his wife and children (who are around my age) and put the mystery photos in a pile to scan and email to Ralph. He has helped me to identify many of them, with background information about where the pictures were taken and on what occasion. 

That afternoon when I drove to work, I turned on the radio to the local NPR station when the historian for the city of Schenectady was being interviewed. The synchronicity made me feel even more connected with my grandfather on his birthday. I love it when things like that happen! As I would find out later, there was an abundance of historical pictures, articles, and artifacts about Schenectady amongst my grandfather’s and father’s belongings.

Gaining Momentum

That was 13 days ago, and since then, I’ve gone through all three boxes of photos and 15 more containing photos, papers, cards and letters, and mementos! I’m on a roll, and it feels amazing! I sort the pictures into plastic tubs assigned to my son, my daughter, my siblings, and myself. There’s also a tub that contains ziplock bags for other relatives, mostly cousins. If a photo shows more than one of my siblings, I put it in a general box of photos to scan and digitize so everyone can have a copy of the digital library I’m compiling. It feels great to create boxes of photos for each family member, which I intend to give as Christmas gifts this year. I have no idea how many more boxes of photos I’ll find in the storage unit, but it will get done one box at a time. 

The biggest takeaway so far is to be sure to write names on the backs of photos! I’m taking time to do that now. Thank goodness my great-uncle is around to help me identify people on my dad’s side of the family. Some photos mailed from England say things like, “There I am in the middle!” But who is “I”???

A couple days ago, I went through the biggest plastic tub of photos yet. Inside it was a really old photo album that seemed like it must have been stored for decades in the deepest, darkest, dampest depths of my parents’ basement. It was my mom’s photo album from her early twenties, before she met my dad. There were photos of old boyfriends (including one I believe she was engaged to), cards, postcards, etc. These were the “missing years” of my mom’s life about which I knew very little. What a treasure!

One of her best friends from those years synchronistically searched for my mom online and found her via a Facebook page I created for her when she was languishing four years ago. That friend, who hadn’t seen her in 25 years, showed up a day or two before my mom died, and we sat around her hospice bed listening to her share stories from when they were young women. Although my mom wasn’t able to participate in the conversation or even open her eyes, it was a great blessing to have her bestie from way back when show up when she did. And now, I have pictures from that time period!

Feeling the Pain

The difference between decluttering my stuff and decluttering my parents’ stuff is that they held on to things related to me that I wouldn’t choose to keep. And so I found myself face-to-face with images of (and letters from) former selves I felt rather ashamed of. There were many pictures in which I clearly had an attitude. Why did I have to be such a sulky, stick-in-the-mud kid when my parents were so sweet? I even found a printed email my sister wrote to my dad 20 years ago telling him what a wonderful dad he was. She wrote that I probably think so, too, but have been so critical towards everyone lately, not just him. Yikes!

I wish I hadn’t been like that – so serious, critical, perfectionistic, easily offended, and emotionally distant – and got a little stuck in regret. I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that’s not who I am now, and there was a reason for everything. Eventually, I’d work my way through it and find peace. When another wave came along, I’d do it again. Nothing like getting a glimpse of yourself from the perspective of your family members!

Sometimes a “healing crisis” can arise if you do a lot of decluttering at once. When that happens, you need to slow down and take some time to ground yourself and process what’s coming up. Take a break. Take a walk. Get together with friends. Remember who you are now and who you are in the process of becoming. Allow yourself to let go of former identities that no longer serve you, and acknowledge how much you have grown and transformed since then. Find a way to send love and acceptance to your former self – or to your current self if you feel you’re not measuring up to the great potential you had earlier in life. It’s all an invitation for greater love and self-acceptance.

The most difficult photo album was the one from my parents’ last trip to Hawaii in the fall of 2012. They looked so happy and had no idea they would return home to news that would devastate them. A few months later, my dad had a heart attack, and a year after that, my mom was undergoing chemo and had begun her decline. That Hawaii trip was probably the last time they were truly happy before the series of unfortunate events. However, I don’t know what their souls came here to learn, so perhaps the events were just part of their path and their curriculum here on earth and not so unfortunate after all. And perhaps having me for a daughter was part of that, too.

Fascinating Findings

The most fascinating box so far was a huge, heavy one I opened last night from which a strong, musty odor arose. I covered my nose and mouth with a mask to sort through that one. My great-great grandfather’s postcard collection (received mostly from his daughter and granddaughter – my grandmother) were among the artifacts, along with numerous, old photo albums from my dad’s childhood. I also came across a mysterious object that looked like the lid to an old, ornate box. As I worked my way through the box, I found a matching, bejeweled piece that was the front cover of a huge Bible, followed by an enormous text block that had become detached from its covers. That Bible must have weighed at least 15 pounds! It was the sixth family Bible I have come across, and along the way, I’ve learned how to dispose respectfully of Bibles in various conditions.

The simple Bible that belonged to my great-grandfather on my mom’s side was the one I discarded most ceremonially. It seemed to have the most energy and contained numerous notes, newspaper clippings, photos, cards, obituaries, etc. There were several pages missing, so I couldn’t donate it. I removed all the artifacts and cut out the pages in the back where important family events were recorded. Then I lit a rose-scented candle and sat down to meditate on how best to dispose of the Bible. Options included burning, burying, and recycling. I ended up recycling it. I gently and lovingly removed the text block from the (non-recyclable) covers and put it inside a brown envelope on which I wrote some words that expressed my intention to release it honorably and with gratitude for how it has served my family through the generations. Doing that felt right and complete. I honored my ancestors and their faith and felt connected with them. It was quite beautiful.

There were other artifacts besides Bibles that I’d choose to discard. I put some of the more interesting ones aside to photograph prior to getting rid of them. The stuff I’m sorting through brings up insights about my parents and ancestors, and I’m taking pictures and journaling about those insights rather than holding on to all the stuff.

Sorting Pictures

I’ve sorted through thousands of photos now and disassembled at least 25 photo albums and upwards of 50 framed photos. I’ve also thrown out lots of photos and have developed a system for sorting and discarding. Pictures of unfamiliar people and vacation photos ended up in the garbage because they don’t have meaning to anyone now. As I looked through my parents’ vacation photos of scenic landscapes, I paused to feel the joy they must have experienced under a spectacular Hawaiian sunset sky, for example. It felt like joy was being transmitted directly through the photos. I kept some of them, but there’s no need to hold on to most of them because the stories and context are lost. Attuned to intuition, I feel very clear about which photos to keep from a batch of vacation photos and which ones to let go of. I also am recognizing the sentimental value of portraits taken by professional photographers (like myself).

I’m convinced my parents have held onto every photo, note, and piece of paper that ever made its way into their home! But I still haven’t come across any of my journals from when I was in junior and senior high school. My younger sister told me she’d found them after I went off to college, and she and her friends read them for entertainment…which was terribly embarrassing! I wonder what happened to the journals and shudder at the thought of my parents finding and reading them – exposing my innermost thoughts and experiences during the time I put up such an emotional shield between myself and my family. My sister seems to think they are long gone, and I’m actually okay with that!

After going through about 20 boxes from the storage unit, it’s almost to the point where I feel I’m starting to make a dent and create some space. Making it through a box feels kind of like decluttering a cabinet or drawer in my house. A small but significant victory! It feels overwhelming at the time but is very gratifying when you’re done and feel so much lighter. I came up with a method of sorting pictures and papers into the following categories:

  • trash
  • recycling
  • keep
  • plastic tub to give to a certain family member
  • photograph then discard
  • scan then sort
  • giveaway/donate
  • yard sale.

Anything designated for a yard sale goes back in the storage unit with a price sticker on it.

So one box at a time, I shall proceed with this decluttering pilgrimage. Eventually, I’ll get to the end of the pictures, papers, and mementoes, which I imagine will feel like successfully clutter-clearing a room in my house. Then I’ll move on to another category, like household, kitchen, books, etc. 

It’s going to take a while…but one box at a time.

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (River-Bliss.com) is a contemplative photographer, writer, educator, and artist who lives on the Hudson River. Her work combines her passion for photography and writing with her deep interest in the nature of mind and perception and her love of the natural world. 

A Facebook Experiment in Self-Compassion

A Facebook Experiment in Self-Compassion

Last month, I reached my limit. My stress level was high. I felt upset, confused, frustrated, and disappointed and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t selling more calendars. I had made a substantial investment to have my 2018 calendars printed and wondered why people in my Facebook network hadn’t bought more. Other people seemed to be more successful selling via social media during the holiday season. What was I doing wrong?

I had learned about the “trigger” words to avoid so Facebook won’t squash the reach of a post. The workaround was to pay for an ad, so I took the time to create nice ads only to receive messages about them “not delivering”. Grrrr! Then I learned about the bidding system that prioritizes which ads would be seen. It’s complicated, but the bottom line was that people weren’t seeing my posts or ads. I seriously began to suspect I was chosen without consent to be a subject in a secret Facebook study. By New Year’s Day, I’d had a number of mini-meltdowns and was (and still am) nearly $200 away from breaking even on my investment, which was terribly disappointing.

I was fed up with Facebook.

On the other hand, I was so grateful to everyone who did buy a calendar(s) or share my posts. Every time I received a sale, I literally jumped up and down, clapped my hands, and exclaimed, “Thank you!” It meant so much to me.

But I also began to feel jealous of people who were getting more sales and “likes” than I was – or likes from certain people – and couldn’t understand why, after posting free, uplifting content every day, more people didn’t support their local artist friend by buying a calendar. I’m not proud of those feelings, but I’m being honest.

I reminded myself of the real reason why I post daily to social media. It wasn’t to get likes. It was because photography, writing, and sharing the inspiration that comes to me through them is my spiritual practice. It’s something I can’t not do. It’s who I am and how I express myself. I’d keep doing it if nobody “liked” my posts – which, due to Facebook’s frustrating algorithms – sometimes happens! Reminding myself of this made the jealousy and comparisons seem so superficial and yucky. It was humbling. How could I let my spiritual practice – my true purpose – get hijacked by ego?  

I didn’t want to feel that way or be that kind of person. If my interaction with Facebook took me out of alignment with who I want to be – if I had so much trouble maintaining what Buddhists call “right relationship” to it – the answer was clear: Take a break. A Facebook fast. It would be my “new moon project” for 28 days. Posting to my “business” page was allowed, but no personal posts. Just jump on, post my biz page, and jump right back off without looking at anything else. Including my daughter’s pictures of my granddaughter.

In the nine years I’d been on Facebook, I’d never taken a break and even wondered if it would be possible, especially around the holidays when there’s so much to share! But it ended up being astonishingly easy! Now that the lunar cycle is over, and we’re almost halfway through the next one, I’m in no hurry to jump back in and so far have only stuck a toe back in the water.

It feels good to get unhooked. Amazing, actually.

There were some things I truly missed during my fast. I missed knowing what’s going on in my friends’ lives and being able to offer a word of encouragement to those who could use it or simply to acknowledge that they are seen, heard, and accepted. I missed the enriching and inspiring content certain friends share regularly and the opportunity to radiate love and acceptance to more people than I otherwise would interact with daily.

I think those are positive reasons to engage with social media. But do I need 562 “friends”? I think not. So before I return to Facebook, I intend to clear the clutter from my friend list and only keep those with whom I have or have had a real connection and/or those who inspire and uplift me. Common interests, resonant energy – things like that.

Being on a Facebook fast allowed me to gain perspective on what I like and dislike about the platform and why I engage in the first place. I couldn’t care less about the vanity posts that showcase the masks of idealized self-images we put on to impress others and to feel better about ourselves or to get “likes”. Political posts are a another issue. You can scroll through without much effort, but I have no desire to come across intolerant or hateful posts – which actually doesn’t happen much in my newsfeed. Mostly, I’m interested in authenticity and inspiration and the opportunity to be authentic and to inspire.

As with all relationships, I want my engagement with social media to feed and grow my soul, not my ego. Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem, “The Invitation” (of which a few lines are excerpted below – click on the link to read the full poem) sums up the kind of connections and sharing I seek on social media and in general:

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

Source: Oriah Mountain Dreamer. The Invitation. New York: Harper Collins, 1999. Print.

I don’t care about the parties you go to and who you know. I want to know what fuels and inspires you and what you have overcome to be who you are today, how you are the hero of your own life story. I want to know who you are on the inside…because the outside is only a shell, and that’s not the level on which I seek connection.

I want to understand your story and thereby better understand my own, as well as the greater story we are all part of. And I want to share my story with you so you might better understand yours through our similarities and contrasts. I want to feel inspired by the challenges you are able to overcome and connect through your suffering, which (at the most basic level) is also mine and only looks different on the surface. As the R.E.M. song goes, everybody hurts. But when we share our pain or connect with others who have experienced pain we are familiar with, it eases the suffering a bit. At least we don’t feel so alone.

I want my Facebook feed to be filled with authenticity, inspiration, radiance, resonance, and hope. As I declutter my friend list, that’s what I’m looking for. It doesn’t mean only keeping people who appear to be most “like me”. Some people I respect deeply don’t share my world view, and they help me to break down the illusion of “other” and practice equanimity, tolerance, and love.

As I mentioned above, so far I’ve only stuck a toe back into the Facebook stream. Quick peeks. In those glimpses, one friend wrote about some incredible, synchronistic events she’s experienced that suggest her daughter, who passed away over a year ago, continues to communicate with her. This same friend also has shared her pain over losing her daughter. I find her journey through grief inspiring and her accounts of after-death communication uplifting.

Another, new friend posted about learning of her brother’s death, which hit her hard. Last week, her family received the call they knew they’d receive someday but hoped they wouldn’t. Her brother had been estranged from the family for the past 25 years, and she shared her tears and questions about who he was with courageous vulnerability. The next day, she shared joyful revelations about what she had learned about her brother’s life from a stranger who was a close friend of his. These revelations flew in the face of everything she assumed about her brother’s life and is clearly part of her healing journey. I believe we are ultimately part of the same journey and the same story, and witnessing healing and transformation in others helps to heal and transform us.

And then there were pictures of my granddaughter playing with some toys she got for her birthday. Feel-good posts.

These are all reasons why I am going to slowly break my Facebook fast. But as I return, I’ll be conscious of staying in alignment with my true self (not my ego!) while engaging with social media. If I cannot do that and find myself getting hooked again, then I’ll need to either adjust my friend list, educate myself, adjust my attitude, or take another break.

I’m glad to have interrupted the trance I had fallen into by stepping back and turning off what was sabotaging my peace of mind. To say no to what doesn’t feel right. Sometimes you have to get a little distance or take a time-out to regain perspective and a healthier balance so you don’t lose yourself. To remember you have a choice. My Facebook fast was yet another method of decluttering – not physical things this time, but my time and my thoughts. Letting go of what doesn’t serve us, whether on a physical or energetic level, is truly empowering.

It feels so good that I didn’t stop there. Today I’m on my tenth day without chocolate because apparently I’m quite sensitive to that, too (in a different way). And again, it has been so much easier to give up than I ever imagined. But that’s another story for another time.


© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Redefining Christmas

Redefining Christmas

I’m sitting in my living room this evening feeling grateful for the little things. All day, I’ve been trying to be okay with Christmas being different now, and not really knowing what that even means or what Christmas will look like from now on. This is the first year of celebrating Christmas without my parents and without their house as the center of our family get-togethers. Last year doesn’t count because we were too busy getting ready to sell their house, which involved so much work that it still makes my head spin when I think about it. On top of all that, I was sick with a really bad cold, so my adult children spent Christmas with their dad.

This year is different.

Our circa 1840 house is really small and cannot even begin to accommodate a small family gathering that includes a toddler who spends every waking hour exploring. My daughter, who lives with little Ava in a small apartment an hour away, doesn’t have a car. So the solution we came up with is to have our family celebration at the home of my ex-husband and his girlfriend (who live close to my daughter) so we all can be together in a space that can host a holiday celebration that includes a very active toddler. 

For the most part, those in my small family circle aren’t buying gifts this year, and that’s okay. It’s not too different from any other year, and it’s not just about financial circumstances because values are also a factor. I’ve never been into the consumer aspect of Christmas and would always make most of the gifts for my children or give them art materials. Christmas wasn’t so much about the presents as it was about being together. My favorite Christmases were when I had the kids for Christmas Eve, and we’d have a dinner movie theater in the living room. I’d make our favorite holiday foods from a menu we created together, and we’d watch a few Christmas movies and (in the earlier years) track Santa’s whereabouts.

This year, I mostly want to give the gifts of food, art, and creativity materials, but I’m feeling like there’s still so much to do with only one more day until Christmas because the snow and ice we’ve had for the past two days put a damper on shopping for missing ingredients and supplies. But the down time has given me a chance to pause, reflect, and simplify my expectations for what I can accomplish in the next 24 hours. 

My mom was the one who made Christmas feel like a really festive occasion, a big deal. She loved buying presents, decorating their house and two Christmas trees (one real, one artificial). My mom was the spirit of Christmas in our family! For the most part, the store-bought gifts and larger ticket items (such as American Girl dolls) were under the tree at my parents’ house. 

But that’s not the case anymore, and my lack of consumerism really shows now because my mom isn’t around to cover for me! I feel some pressure (coming from nobody but me, of couse) to carry on my mom’s spirit of Christmases past. But without a home that can accommodate a family gathering, no space for a Christmas tree, and a very modest budget this year, it’s not realistic – and it’s also not me. A portion of my parents’ Christmas decorations are in boxes in my storage unit, but I don’t even have space to display them. 

I’m trying to be okay with this – with Christmas looking very different than it used to.

Earlier today, I spoke with my daughter to firm up holiday plans and told her I’m more interested in presence than presents but feel I should do more to make Christmas even a little more like it was when my parents were alive. She told me she was feeling guilty about not being able to buy presents for anyone except Ava. Seems we were both falling into the trap of thinking what we could do wasn’t enough.

We reminisced about Christmases when my parents were alive, and then she told me she can’t remember the presents she received at my parents’ house but remembers the feeling of everyone being together. We agreed that is what Christmas is really about. And we agreed to be gentle with ourselves and not put pressure on ourselves to do any more than we can do. 

In past years, I recall seeing lots of posts and pictures on social media of friends having big holiday celebrations complete with beautifully decorated trees and lots of presents. This year I’m on a 30-day Facebook fast and probably will avoid Instagram for a few days around Christmas, as well. It’s nice to see smiling faces and families celebrating together, but it’s still a sensitive time of year for me as I adjust to not having my parents or their house in the picture.

But let’s not allow our expectations for Christmas (or life in general) to be influenced by social media images. There is another reality.

Every day I work at the library, I’m in contact with many people who are homeless, and they keep my ideas about what Christmas “should” be like in check. They remind me of how much I have, even if it doesn’t look like much compared to the Facebook pictures and my assumptions of how other families live and celebrate. I realize that just showing up and being together is enough. It’s not the presents. It’s the presence that matters most. And we should be really grateful for everyone who can come together and celebrate with us. Thank God my daughter survived the car accident she was in over the summer and is alive and able to celebrate with us. 

There is a library patron who reminds me of my dad. He’s 88 years old, and we have developed a special bond. It makes me so happy to see his face light up when we interact.  Last week, he gave me advice about running cold water at the end of a shower, to close my pores. The only other person who ever told me that was my dad. I know little bits and pieces of this man’s story and am eager to learn more. Yesterday, he told me that a female relative (a cousin, I believe) invited him for Christmas, and he was happy she did because otherwise he would have spent Christmas alone. I had no idea! A week ago, I gave him one of my calendars along with a card referring to him as my favorite library patron, and now I’m thinking that might be one of the only gifts he will receive – which makes me so glad I gave it to him!

I’ve been thinking of him a lot today and am appreciating that I have family to be with on Christmas. Many people don’t. It can be difficult for divorced parents who alternate holidays to not celebrate with their children on the actual holiday. The years when we can spend the holidays together are special and not to be taken for granted. It doesn’t matter if you have a tree or any gifts under it. It’s the togetherness that counts. 

So please enjoy the company of your loved ones, and don’t put stress on yourself to have your holiday celebrations be anything more than what they are. Being together with whoever is able to show up is the greatest gift of the season. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake. 

May your holidays be filled with gratitude and love. And may you focus more on the love than any absences, and more on what you have than what you don’t. May you find a sweet perfection in what is.

© 2017 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Four Bags and a Canon in D

Four Bags and a Canon in D

Yesterday would have been my mom’s 80th birthday. Well, I suppose it still was. She just wasn’t around to celebrate with us – in the physical sense, anyway. Instead of going to my parents’ house (which was sold earlier this year) for a birthday celebration in the evening as we would have in a parallel universe, I lit up her miniature Victorian Christmas tree in my living room, sorted through a bag of her clothes, and shared some memories with others who loved her. And not just family. Facebook is pretty great for things like that.

Something kind of magical happened on my drive home from work last night. My mom LOVED Pachelbel’s Canon in D. She always made sure it was played during family weddings. We played one of her CDs with many different versions of it in her room at the hospice house the night she was dying, and it created such a peaceful, sacred atmosphere. I can’t recall ever hearing it on the radio, but when I turned on my car radio during my evening drive home, it was playing – which brought me to happy tears because it was her birthday, and I felt her presence in that music.

Music, dreams, and license plates are the biggest ways I feel my parents’ presence, as if they are popping in to say hi. Over the weekend, I turned on my car radio, and “Frosty the Snowman” was playing as I sat at a traffic light in town. I don’t tend to linger on Christmas music stations, but my mom loved everything Christmas, including Frosty (which I remember her playing on piano), and before I had a chance to change the station, I noticed the license plate on the car in front of me read: FROSTY. I kid you not. 

Even though it’s a silly children’s song, it was a compelling synchronicity. It wasn’t until a couple days later that I thought about the lyrics: 

Frosty the snowman
Had to hurry on his way
But he waved goodbye saying, 
“Don’t you cry
I’ll be back again some day.”

And then I cried tears of yes because those simple words touched a nerve. When pancreatic cancer struck, my mom did have to hurry on her way, and I know she wouldn’t want us to grieve and cry because she was such a jolly, happy soul who spread joy and kindness everywhere she went. 

Was there a message in that song and something more to it than pure coincidence, or do I think too much? Prior to considering the lyrics, I just couldn’t stop thinking about the synchronicity – kept coming back to it – because, even though I originally attributed it to coincidence, it wouldn’t let me go. It seemed like there was something more to it. Something personal. It was a nagging feeling I had. At any rate, hearing a few seconds of the song made me think of my mom, and that brought a smile to my heart. And that’s good enough. But in my heart, I think there was more to it than that.

A couple weeks ago, I finally took four huge bags of my mom’s clothing out of my storage unit, and they have been taking up space in my studio (a.k.a. the enclosed porch) ever since. I’ve had to navigate around them countless times a day. Last night, I finally dragged one of the bags into the living room to prepare the clothes for donation.

They still carried the scent of my mom’s fresh, clean laundering. As I looked at and smelled each article of clothing I took out of the bag (while the Pachelbel Canon played in the background), I really felt her presence. I examined each article of clothing carefully and considered whether I would want to keep it. Virtually every item was from her favorite store, Talbots, and she had really nice clothes, but nothing I’d wear (aside from one Christmas sweater and two jackets I set aside). So I took my time buttoning every button, checking every pocket, and feeling my mom’s energy in each blazer and blouse I held in my hands. Some of the clothes brought to mind certain photographs or memories, which I paused to remember: her working in her garden, celebrating Christmas, going to work, dressing up for parties and social events, vacationing with my dad. I wanted to make sure every piece of her clothing was in good shape before delivering it to the next stop on its journey. Because my mom’s clothing meant a lot to her.

This afternoon, I delivered the clothes to a bustling consignment/thrift shop that donates all proceeds to the local hospital where my mom used to volunteer, playing guitar and singing for the patients she visited on her rounds. She’d always wanted to be a nurse and started nursing school when my children were very young but enjoyed the career she was in and wanted to spend more time with her grandchildren, so she didn’t finish the program. After she retired from her career with the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, she took up guitar, and it quickly became her passion. Her volunteer work at the hospital was a fusion of her lifelong desire to work in a health care setting and her lifelong passion for music. Donating her clothes to a place where they would benefit the hospital felt right and filled me with the joy of giving. 

My rented storage unit is filled with my parents’ belongings that I didn’t want to dispose of in a mad dash when we sold the house earlier this year. It allows me to take the time to go through their things mindfully and let them go in a way that feels right, one bag or box at a time. This is the week to give my mom’s wardrobe a proper sendoff. And that is how I spent her 80th birthday. By the end of the week, all her clothes will be gone and hopefully will make a lot of people happy – just like she did. 

© 2017 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Little by Little

Little by Little

There have been a number of times this fall when I’ve begun to write something that felt sharable. However, throughout the month of October, I devoted my free time to traveling around Upstate New York and Vermont to photograph fall foliage and didn’t end up publishing anything. There were several experiences I wanted to write about, such as soaking up an amazing, positive vibe at Sandy’s Books and Bakery in a little town called Rochester, Vermont (en route to a waterfall I wanted to photograph) and having deep conversations with strangers that bordered on magical. Meeting my new tribe of delightful, kindred spirits with whom I will participate in group retreats on a regular basis over the next three years for the purpose of personal and spiritual growth. Personal revelations and challenges. Observing the first anniversary of my dad’s passing. Traveling twice to Watkins Glen to achieve my big photography goal of the year: photographing waterfalls on the gorge trail when the fall colors were at peak. The thrill of anticipating that just around the next bend, I would be standing in the scene I’d seen so many stunning pictures of through the years – and how exhilarating it felt to arrive at that spot. 

 

But the moment that really stands out for me and that I feel inspired to write about now is a much “smaller” moment, when I pulled in my driveway one breezy morning after walking the labyrinth down the road and noticed what appeared to be a butterfly circling gracefully around the backyard until it finally landed in the grass. As it soared through the air, I thought I could make out two wings but then noticed it wasn’t a butterfly after all. It was a leaf! The tallest tree in the backyard was releasing some leaves, and I found it really inspiring. I sat in my car for a while watching the tree let go of its leaves and noticed it did so in spurts, despite the constant breeze. It wasn’t a continuous process, and it didn’t release only a few leaves at a time. It seemed there were moments of letting go of a flurry of leaves all at once, followed by a resting period. A few minutes later, another flurry, and then more rest before it would be ready to let go of more. 

Even though it didn’t let go of its leaves at all once, it’s the season of letting go, and the cycle had been set in motion. The leaves the tree put out in the spring to capture and photosynthesize sunlight were no longer useful to the tree because it was time to simplify and prepare to rest for the winter. To turn inward. The tree was focused now on letting go and soon would release all its leaves, resulting in a colorful carpet of leaves covering the backyard. 

I love to observe nature and discover what it can tell me about myself and about human nature. On my way home from the labyrinth that morning, I drove by the storage facility in which I’m storing many of my parents’ belongings. I’d intended to have a yard sale during the warmer months this year, but it didn’t happen because I had other priorities. This is my year of deep decluttering in all areas of life, and after decluttering the house completely during the first quarter of the year and doing lots of digital decluttering, clutter clearing my car, etc., it felt like I took a break, much like the tree in my backyard. But when I drove by the storage unit that morning, I reminded myself that I needed to resume my decluttering pilgrimage, beginning with my mom’s clothes. Perhaps taking that one step would get me back into the swing of letting go of stuff that has outlived its usefulness in my life and was only taking up valuable space.

I’ve been renting the storage unit for nearly a year now, and it has given me the gift of time to deal with my parents’ belongings that weren’t sold, donated, or disposed of when we sold their house back in January. I can’t put a price tag on that gift of time, especially since my home has no usable storage space for sentimental items. I stayed away all summer while attending to other matters, and it was hard to return when my son went back to college. When I raised the big, metal door for the first time in a while and was greeted by a roomful of things that are no longer needed by loved ones, I experienced deep sadness. However, I sat with the sadness and was present to it, and eventually it shifted into a sense of comfort as I sat on my parents’ living room sofa and smelled familiar fragrances that I hope will never fade away. And that’s probably why I don’t mind paying for the storage unit. Grief has no timetable, and I have no usable storage space in my home, so it’s not something I’m going to fret about.

My mom hasn’t needed her clothes in 3 1/2 years, and we’ve all had a chance to go through them to take what we want. When she was alive, she’d regularly donate clothing she no longer wanted to a local community organization. Her clothes were a big part of her identity. She loved having nice clothes to wear to social events. My mom was a very kind and classy lady who liked to look her best and always was dressed with a big, warm smile. And that’s why the huge bags of her clothing are still in my storage unit. Getting rid of them feels like letting go of a significant part of my mom – even though I realize she is not her clothes, and she would not want them in bags in a storage unit. She would want them to be worn by women who would appreciate them. 

Last night, I had a dream in which I was with my mom and wanted to talk with her about something that has been problematic in settling the estate. But in the dream, it seemed she was still alive, and it didn’t make sense to talk about her being dead when she was still alive, so I asked her if our “future selves” could have a conversation. Then I told her that she had passed away 3 1/2 years ago and that Dad passed away a year ago – and then I couldn’t say anything more than, “And I miss you so much!” because I was crying so hard that I was aware that my dreaming body also was crying. We gave each other a big hug before the dream ended.

I woke up from that dream ready to write this blog post and donate my mom’s clothes this week.

With the tall tree in my backyard as my mirror, I acknowledged that I’m spending this entire year (and beyond) doing what the tree was doing that breezy, October morning: letting go of what no longer serves me to make room for new possibilities when the time is right. Decluttering my life has been the most amazing process of enLIGHTENment. Probably the deepest letting go I’ve experienced this year relates to the habitual thoughts in my head – much of which was inspired by getting rid of physical things but some of which wasn’t. Thoughts and relationships are what I was busy clutter-clearing when I wasn’t going to the storage unit. Buddhists call it establishing “right relationship” to them, and it is very liberating! Decluttering your life is a profound act of mindful self-compassion or what I like to call tender, loving self-care. Self-love is not selfish. It benefits everyone. When you honor your most authentic self, you’re putting good energy into the world. And when you do it well, letting go is done with love, grace, and gratitude.

So, yeah… I have my work cut out for me inside that storage unit. But it will get done, one flurry of letting go at a time, and with grace, like that leaf I mistook for a butterfly sailing so exquisitely around the backyard on its journey to the ground.

© 2017 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

 

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