Today I’m inspired to write about the most obvious thing going on in my little corner of the world: the falling leaves. We’re not often taught how to let go, though it’s such an important and unavoidable part of being human. Trees can be great teachers in this regard.
As my feet crunch along a leaf-covered trail, I find myself asking: What do I need to let go of to prepare for a new cycle of growth? What no longer brings light and nourishment into my life? These are questions worth contemplating every now and then.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my journey of letting go: First, you don’t have to settle on a new aspiration before releasing what already is. Just let go of what no longer serves you, to make room for new possibilities as they arise in their own rhythm. Trust the cycle of letting go, envisioning, planting new seeds, and tending them so they flower and bear fruit. Then letting go again…
I repeat: You don’t need to know what you desire to let go of what feels complete. If you put it down, you might catch inspiration about what’s next drifting through your less cluttered mind. You might integrate what you’ve already done into whatever you do next.
But whatever you focus on next will look different. It will be fresh, like a new generation of leaves emerging from a springtime tree. If you let go of clinging to something outworn, you can grow and experience and be even more. And if you’re not able to give it up yet, at least let go of the beliefs and attitudes that don’t serve you. That way, you can have a different, more spacious relationship with the situation. This alone might reveal new possibilities.
Like breathtaking autumn landscapes, letting go can be accomplished with gratitude and celebration of how something or someone has enriched your life. Perhaps a soul contract has been fulfilled with another person or you’ve learned the lesson you needed from a situation. You don’t need to make anything or anyone bad to release what has served its purpose in your life.
In her popular Ted Talk, multipotentialite coach Emilie Wapnick said, “It is rarely a waste of time to pursue something you’re drawn to even if you end up quitting. You might apply that knowledge in a different field entirely in a way you couldn’t have anticipated.”
And yet, endings can be challenging. We might get in our own way. After receiving a master’s degree in education, I only taught full-time for seven years before leaving that career a few years ago. When I resigned, I didn’t know what was next. All I knew was that my soul had moved on from classroom teaching and was being called elsewhere. Despite all the hoops I jumped through to prepare myself for that career in the first place.
It had taken me a few years to muster up the courage to leave that career because of all the time and money I invested in a master’s degree, my student loan balance, employer-provider health insurance and benefits, and my vision of it being THE career for me, for the long haul. I had such passion for early childhood education in the beginning and wondered if I could get it back if only I held it the right way again. So I examined it from every angle and even requested a sabbatical year (request denied) before I finally acknowledged beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was time to let go.
By that time, it was long overdue. After spending so much time wondering what was wrong with me because I couldn’t make it work, I was burned out to the point of no return. Putting energy into work that was so hard to show up for took up a lot of space in my mind that could have focused on new possibilities. It was like a huge boulder sitting in the middle of my mind that obstructed my view of the path ahead.
Letting go doesn’t have to take so long. We don’t have to suffer in something that feels like clothes that have become too small or outdated because how we felt about it in the past is so different from how we feel now. Because the season has changed, as seasons do.
Relationships can take new forms. Talents, experience, skills, and knowledge you’ve developed can be integrated into something new. This is something that tends to be undervalued in our society. As a result, deciding to end a pursuit often feels like a failure when it’s not.
Would you discourage a flower from blooming if it’s bound to wither?
How do you know when it’s time to let go, or what to let go of? If you tune in to yourself, you will know. Sometimes it’s hard to separate your deeper wisdom from other people’s fears and desires and your own conditioned patterns. I’ve found that a meditation practice and going on a spiritual retreat can be really helpful. Taking walks in nature.
Do you feel drawn to the leaves falling from the trees? If so, go outside and ask the trees for a message. Then keep your senses open, and listen deeply. Anytime you find yourself drawn to something in nature, you can ask what message it has for you.
It’s not a failure to acknowledge that something is no longer a fit for you. That’s an old, conditioned belief that keeps you living small and static when you were made to be so much more than who you used to be. Letting go is part of a tree’s growth cycle. The tree doesn’t stop growing because it lets go of its leaves that for a season or two gathered light to be photosynthesized into food. Like deciduous trees, letting go helps us to expand further. And like deciduous trees that look barren in the winter, we might need to be patient.
All you have loved remains part of you and helps to synthesize new possibilities into fuel and nourishment. It’s like the discarded seeds we toss into the compost bin that surprise us the following summer when they sprout and grow without any effort on our part.
Letting go isn’t something we’ve been taught to do – let alone letting go with grace and elegance. It doesn’t have to be something big like a job or marriage. It can be regrets, perfectionism, certain thoughts and beliefs, situations around which you’ve not had healthy boundaries, trying to do too much, resisting what is, physical or mental clutter, and so much more.
When a new generation of leaves comes out in the spring, it’s vibrant and exciting. Nonetheless, the trees will let go of them in autumn. Not because they didn’t love or need them. Not because they’re bad now. Simply because they’ve outlived their purpose, and in order to grow more, the tree needs to release them.
What leaves are autumn winds calling you to release? Can you let go of what no longer serves you and make room for something new even if you don’t yet know what it is?
© 2019 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, Reiki practitioner, and mindfulness meditation 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.
Some Questions to Consider
What if it is not your responsibility to change or save anyone else?
What if you’re not a failure if you can’t?
What if trying to save someone would deprive them
of learning essential lessons?
What if it’s not your job to smooth things over and create harmony?
What if all is well even when it doesn’t appear to be?
What if your children have their own path
and aren’t here to serve your image?
What if you ultimately don’t know what is best for them
or what they are here to experience?
What if the relationship doesn’t end when a loved one dies,
and there is still plenty of time for reconciliation and intimacy?
What if nobody who loves you
would want you to feel bad about yourself
or tolerate abuse?
What if life is not a race or competition,
and there’s no need to compare yourself to anyone?
What if other people’s opinions of you don’t matter,
and what you believe about yourself and others is everything?
What if the qualities you consider weaknesses are actually strengths?
What if your net worth has nothing to do with your true worth?
What if your true worth has nothing to do with your partner’s infidelity
or the inconsistency of your parents’ love and support?
What if you don’t have to be right?
What if the answers you seek live in your heart,
not your head?
What if you don’t require any more credentials, teachers, or training
to offer your talents and services to the world?
What if you don’t have to believe what anyone tells you,
even your guru?
What if you have an inner guru
that offers the best advice and insights?
What if it’s not possible to achieve self-worth
through pleasing someone else,
and you’re better off smashing the pedestal
you’ve used to elevate others?
What if there is no ‘other’?
What if you admit you have been traumatized?
What if it wasn’t your fault?
What if trying so hard to see the good in someone
prevents you from realizing how unhealthy it is
to have them in your life?
What if part of you remains untouched
by any kind of suffering and can help you to heal?
What if you are stronger than your deepest wound?
What if you are not a victim?
What if there is no one to blame?
What if doing the best you can at the moment is enough?
What if your true nature is inherently good and trustworthy
despite everything you’ve done?
What if you are worthy of forgiveness?
What if you are already forgiven?
What if it’s okay to fail
again and again and again?
What if your pace on the path of enlightenment is exactly right?
What if it is not possible to go off the path?
What if you are lovable just as you are?
What if your body is fabulous exactly as it is?
What if your greatest hindrance is your greatest teacher?
What if you already are good enough?
What if these invitations open you to a tenderness
capable of transmuting your worst afflictions
and releasing the beliefs that keep you living small?
What if it’s okay to live small
and be content with the life you have
because you perceive the fullness of the ordinary?
Do the possibilities make you feel uncomfortable?
Do you fear they would be yet another falling short
and render you irresponsible, complacent,
destined for damnation,
Or have you touched the realization
that everything you have learned
to loathe and fear about yourself
is rooted in innocence
and serves your evolution?
Have you discovered yet
that when you dissolve the stories
that disconnect you from the Higher Self
something deeper and wiser takes over
and pulls you along?
© 2019 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, Reiki practitioner, and mindfulness meditation 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.
Two years ago today, I began my great decluttering journey. At that time, I was at a major crossroads. I’d recently resigned from my teaching career and didn’t have a clear vision of what was next. My youngest child was a freshman away at college. Both of my parents had passed away, and we’d just closed on their house, which they’d lived in for 32 years. I’d also recently become a grandmother and was about to turn 50.
I was in uncharted territory.
After putting so much effort into assisting my parents and clearing out their house, my own house was a mess. At the same time, I was grieving the loss of my parents and adjusting to being an empty nester. Though I wasn’t clear about what I was moving toward, I sensed the keys to moving forward were buried under all the clutter in my home. All the stuff that felt more relevant to my past than to my future and took up space in my home.
Think of your home as a giant vision board. What does the stuff you give space to in your home say about what’s most important to you? What intentions for your life do the contents of your home proclaim? What unconscious beliefs do they reveal?
Decluttering my home is a process I’ve written about previously. But my decluttering journey didn’t end there. After clutter-clearing my house, I decluttered my car, garage, computer, website, blog, and photo library. It felt amazing!
At this point, the only area I need to finish decluttering is my rented storage unit that houses my parents’ belongings and ancestral artifacts that I needed more time to process. Last year, I made significant progress by sorting through at least 25 boxes of photographs, papers, and mementos and distributing the “keepers” to living family members. I’m waiting for warmer weather to complete the job and either downsize or eliminate the storage unit.
I began my clutter-clearing pilgrimage with Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as my guide. There were some categories (such as books and papers) for which Kondo’s advice didn’t resonate, so I learned about other methods and eventually became a Certified Clutter Coach in Denise Linn’s method.
After two years of decluttering my own stuff and assisting others on their clutter-clearing journeys, I’ve developed an approach that incorporates guided inner journeys, feng shui, mindfulness, Reiki, photography, writing, vision boards, and creating letting-go rituals that honor sentimental items and the relationships they represent. I’m grateful for all these tools I can use with clients when it feels right. They make the process deeper and more enduring.
With a holistic and integrated approach like this, the clutter does not return. It’s removed, roots and all, and a whole lot of inner clearing and healing takes place through the process. It’s not just about the stuff. Clutter-clearing can be an opportunity for deep transformation and growth on many levels.
First, there’s the most obvious level that encompasses the physical living space and how it feels. I’ve written extensively about this previously and will not go into detail about it here because it’s just the tip of the iceberg. However, it’s what most folks set their sights on when they decide to declutter.
For most of my adult life, I didn’t bother to make my bed. However, since clutter-clearing my home, I’ve made my bed first thing every morning without missing a day. It’s not a chore. Instead, it’s the first gift I give myself every morning and uplifts my energy whenever I walk into the room. In addition, there are no junk drawers or piles of clutter in my home. Since every object has a dedicated spot now, I spend less time looking for things. Everything in my home either serves a purpose or brings me joy. The energy in my home feels lighter and brighter. Entering my home is an uplifting, peaceful experience. It truly is my sanctuary.
All that is a big, ginormous deal that makes the work of decluttering worth it. But there’s more! Much more. For the remainder of this article, I will describe the five greatest benefits I’ve received from clutter-clearing, to illustrate how decluttering can improve your quality of life, beyond how your home looks and feels.
#1: More Joy
Throughout the decluttering process, you go through your belongings one at a time and notice how they affect your energy. Marie Kondo asks: Does it spark joy? Similarly, Denise Linn’s guiding question is: Energy up, energy down, or energy neutral? Naturally, you get lots of practice tuning in to joy and noticing when it’s present and absent – and being mindful of the energy in your body, in general.
As a result, I have a much greater awareness of how joy feels and what sparks it. I’m more inclined to take a moment to check in and notice where my energy’s at and to remove from my environment whatever disturbs my peace of mind. I gravitate toward what brings me joy and feels like an unequivocal yes.
Because joy matters. It’s become more conscious and accessible. A way of life. I now choose joy instead of suffering and make decisions based on joy rather than on fear. (I always can feel the difference.) This includes decisions about how to reframe things so I can see them in a more positive light and avoid unnecessary suffering.
Does it spark joy? is much more than a meme. With practice, it is a major game-changer! My joy setpoint is higher than it used to be, and this is a Very Good Thing.
#2: More Confident Decision-Making
I used to be more passive about making decisions, deferring to others and sometimes even waiting until decisions were made for me, by default. I relied greatly on the opinions of others and allowed them to call the shots about decisions relevant to my life. I didn’t trust my own judgment and sought validation.
Decluttering changed all that! It helped me to tune in to what feels right for me. After noticing how objects affected my energy, the next step was to decide whether to keep, repair, donate, give away, sell, or discard each item. This decision was repeated at least a thousand times during the process and strengthened my decision-making muscles, like doing reps at the gym.
As a result, I’ve made a habit of going inward to decide what to do and enjoy how it feels to take charge of my life. I depend much less on others to help me make decisions. Now I’m more assertive and confident about decision-making and feel much more empowered than I used to.
Tuning in to how it feels in my body and what feels right extends to all areas of life. Being cued in to how things, people, and situations affect my energy allows me to trust my inner wisdom and move in the direction of what feels right – and away from what doesn’t.
And even more than that, I’m communicating what I want, like, and prefer to others rather than simply accepting whatever they do or say and considering “going with the flow” to be a virtue (which it is, within reason). The new me teaches others how I want to be treated instead of passively accepting everyone else’s terms.
All this from decluttering? You betcha. Positive changes can set in motion a surprising ripple effect!
#3: More Proactive
On the most basic level, I don’t let things like dishes and laundry sit around anymore. I take care of them right away. When I put a dishwasher load going at night, I put everything away first thing in the morning so no dirty dishes will accumulate in the sink or on counters. It’s part of my morning routine and is an opportunity to practice gratitude for having dishes and food and a home in which to store it all.
In addition, I order parts for broken appliances, take action swiftly, and don’t allow things to sit around. I pick up tiny objects from the floor and take out the broom rather than leave it for later. I attend to clutter right away because I know how good it feels to be clutter-free, and how things can build up over time and feel overwhelming. Taking a moment now saves a lot of moments later.
Scrubbing the toilet was the worst part of my decluttering experience because our well water has a high mineral content that builds up quickly and stubbornly. It had become really bad, to the point that I just threw in the towel and hoped visitors wouldn’t ask to use the bathroom. When your parents are dying and need your help, such things can happen on the home front.
As I scrubbed the toilet, I vowed I would never, ever let it get that bad again, or even close. I’d be on top of it from now on and scrub away the first signs of mineral stains. It was a great metaphor for some other things (mostly non-things) I’d let slide in my life, and the vow expanded into a promise to myself to be more on the ball in general. Which I have been.
#4: Less Wanting
This month, I will begin a two-year mindfulness meditation teacher certification program that includes a lot of assigned reading. In the past, I’ve had a wall of books. If I’ve ever collected anything, it was books, most of which were acquired inexpensively secondhand. I love books! However, I donated more than half my library during decluttering and only have a few shelves of books (and a few crates of children’s books) remaining that are especially near and dear to my heart.
I can afford to buy the books for the mindfulness program. However, I don’t have much interest in owning more books or more anything. I’m deeply interested in the content of the books for the program and plan to take good notes. Maybe once I get a ways into some of the books, I’ll want to own them. However, I’m starting off borrowing them from the library rather than ordering them on Amazon just because they’re on the required reading list.
The motivation is not so much to save money as it is to save space. I think very carefully about bringing anything new into my home – including books – because I love uncluttered living and want to keep it that way. If anything, I’d like to declutter even more, which is why I do an annual mini-declutter.
#5: More Interpersonal Resolution
My clutter-clearing journey involved going through not only my own photos and personal items, but also all my parents’ and ancestors’ photos, papers, and mementos. That really put things into perspective. It gave me a full lifetime view of each person, which resulted in greater understanding, appreciation, and compassion.
In my twenties, I attended a weekend intensive to kick off a transpersonal psychology certificate program. We sat in chairs in a big circle and started by introducing ourselves. When it was one participant’s turn, she said that she was looking around at everyone in the circle and thought to herself: If only I knew their stories, I would love them. I’ve carried that thought with me ever since.
Decluttering my parents’ and ancestors’ belongings helped me to get to know them better and learn their stories. It made me love and appreciate them more. The mere act of holding someone’s birth certificate in one hand and their death certificate in the other fosters love and compassion. Going through the family artifacts made me feel closer to my parents and grandparents. This would not have happened if I’d left the boxes unexamined.
Going through the boxes of photos and papers generated insights about family relationships and brought up unresolved feelings. I photographed many of the artifacts and journaled about my insights and feelings as they arose by dictating them directly into my phone. Photographing sentimental items and writing about the stories they tell and the feelings they bring up takes the decluttering process even deeper into forgiveness, healing, and the kind of personal transformation that happens when you finally let go of your grudges and the limiting beliefs that produced them.
Seeing pictures of my parents and ancestors throughout their entire life, and reading correspondence from periods of their life I didn’t know much or anything about, helped me to see them as whole human beings rather than as Parents who were always 30 years older than me. I could see them outside of our parent-child roles and within the context of the times in which they lived. Having a clearer picture of that context allowed me to understand that their attitudes and values were shaped by the times in which they lived, and I didn’t need to take things so personally.
The weight of family relationships that I’ve carried around all my life has been lifted. The stories I held about them have become more universal and less personal. So much energy has been freed up. All because I spent time with my parents’ and ancestors’ stuff and decided what to keep, what to let go of, and what to (sometimes literally) reframe.
The Bottom Line
It all comes down to this: Decluttering has helped me to know who I am and what I want, and who I’m not and what I don’t want. Such clarity makes real transformation possible. Transformation that isn’t dependent on the opinions or influence of others because letting go of that is also part of the process. As you become aware of how everything in your environment affects your energy, you learn to make use of a valuable feedback loop that draws you closer to your true self.
That is the greatest joy and success I know of.
But don’t just take my word for it. Do some decluttering, and see for yourself!
Aaand if you’d like assistance with your clutter-clearing journey, I provide a continuum of education and coaching services, including a free Facebook page, workshops/presentations, group coaching, and one-on-one coaching.
© 2019 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, Reiki practitioner, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- plastic tub to give to a certain family member
- photograph then discard
- scan then sort
- 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.
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.