Years ago, just after I returned home from teaching in Mexico while living out of two suitcases, I decided to clean out my stuff, and by stuff I mean my possessions. I didn’t get rid of all of them, but I tossed a lot of mementos and objects and letters I had held onto as a reminder of my youth. To say I pared down is an understatement.
I don’t think I owned very much back then, but by the end of the project, I owned a lot less, and I felt better and lighter. I can see now that what I really wanted was to get rid of so much that had come before—a relationship in which I had felt taken for granted, and my own sense of self that had allowed me to become lost and lose my balance.
Thus, last week when I started clearing out and organizing, I knew there was more to it. This is definitely not my first rodeo. Plus, I don’t love sorting out the way some other people do. It’s one of those things that, like running, doesn’t always feel enjoyable in the moment but will feel great when it is over.
I started with my books—I got rid of half to a third of my collection, including books I have held onto for years, thinking I would read them again. Out they went, off to donation for the public library’s book sale. Then I tackled our toiletries, including the drawer I had with makeup I never use (but probably should!). I’m sure those two lipsticks and that sparkly powder will look good on someone, but into the trash bin they went.
Next I overhauled our small but crowded pantry so I could actually see what’s in there instead of re-buying things we already have (dry beans, rice, salsa). Then I attacked our freezer.
I used two of Marie Kondo’s tips in every project. The first is to take out everything so you can see each object and pare down before putting items back (this means, for example, ALL the books come off the shelf and are laid out, even if you already know you want to keep some). And second is to reorganize so everything is visible in drawers and closets (as opposed to stacking or piling items).
In the last few months, I have been facing issues that on some days have exhausted me emotionally, and I know this sorting out is my way of trying to gain some semblance of control. Over the weekend, I repotted a bunch of my plants, and yesterday, after work, I started a huge photo project I have been putting off for years. When I am done with that, I’ll be going through old notebooks. It won’t be fun, but I’ll be grateful by the end.
Does any of this make those other, bigger issues go away? No, it does not. But it does give me some sense of hope that I can tackle my life’s messes, and it takes away the smaller issues that clutter my mind and environment, and that is motivation enough.
Plus, now I can find that chocolate I stashed somewhere in the back of the pantry.
Shuly Xóchitl Cawood is a Johnson City author who teaches online writing workshops. Learn more at shulycawood.com.