A few days ago, this bedroom closet was crammed from top to bottom with “storage”, but is now a walk-in kitchen for little ones.
This morning as I drink my tea, my legs are so sore. I guess it all started in January.
People always talk about spring cleaning, but this year it hit me in the dead of winter–this compulsive need to start going through every drawer and cupboard and closet. To tidy, to clean, to remove all that isn’t necessary to our living, right now. There were practical explanations, for sure. We were coming up on the 5-year anniversary of our move to New York, and in that time one accumulates a lot of stuff in the corners and around the edges. Like that spray can of Pam Cooking Spray my father insisted on buying during one of his visits here but is otherwise banned from use in my kitchen. And my children have changed. No longer pre-schooler and newborn, they’re both school girls now, so there’s not much reason to have pack and plays and baby bouncy seats stored away in our urban flat.
And I guess I’m tired of reading about decluttering and how good it is for us or how simple it all can be (10 Easy Steps!). Seven months into this project, I can say that it is good for me – mostly because we crave space to create – but it is not simple. I dare not confess to how many weeks, perhaps months, my maternity clothes sat on my bedroom floor before finding their way to the stoop. How much it helps me to have someone else witness my attempts at delay, or to tell me as Emma did yesterday that I’m not a bad mom, that the sorting and purging are instead a severe mercy.
Here’s what I wish all those articles and posts on decluttering and transforming our spaces told us:
- It’s not easy to let the past go. Now I remove the remnants of failed friendships the way I used to dispose of artifacts from old boyfriends. And some part of us knows that the act we’re committing is more than putting a book or a frame out on the stoop – that we are saying good-bye to something that once was but will never be again, including a part of ourselves that hoped for or longed for or trusted in a possibility or a person. This requires us to dig our wounds out from the closet deeps, to feel them again and to – in some both figurative and literal way – to let them go. It requires us to tell the truth about what season we’re in, and what seasons have passed. But it’s even more than that.
- Closing the door on past seasons and selves means opening the door to those to come. (And I don’t mean this to sound entirely like good news, because it never feels that way to me.) It’s often our fear of that invitation, that opening, and the courageous steps it might ask us to take that makes it feel more comfortable to stay surrounded by reminders of a safer, smaller self. As long as I keep my old still camera, I can keep that film-making dream squarely in the Someday category. Selling my camera and upgrading to one that shoots moving pictures, though, that would remove any excuse or delay and I might actually make that documentary. I’m not going to say it’s easy – I nearly threw up in the camera store just last week. But if we really listen, we know the life that is wanting us and we can hear it calling even while our fears scream and holler in response.
- In this, our mentors matter. Remembering the artists and works that have pulled me forward into a bold future always helps me keep putting one step in front of the other, even if reluctantly. The first film I loved, the screenwriters who taught me something true, the first movie that made me think, If I could make a film like *this*, I totally would. I kept them all at the front of my mind while walking down 34th Street to the camera store, because some part of me wanted to turn on my heels and run the other way. I think of my friends who make space for creating and all the magic that unfolds in their spaces, and I can somehow carry the box down to the curb.
- Transforming spaces is an outward expression of an internal threshold crossing. It’s always rooted in possibility – the cook we could be if there was space on the counter, the books we would read if reminded of their presence, the fun that could happen *inside* a closet if it were re-imagined as a play space instead of a storage space. We are choosing to value something more that what we have valued in the past, but that kind of shift always takes courage and often requires us to step out in the face of very little supporting evidence, compared to the former value cases we’ve been building for years.
- The work of becoming is the hardest work we will ever do. The work of tending to our spaces and possessions is inextricably linked to the process of becoming. The truth is, I don’t need another magazine article on the perfect containers to organize the spices. I need my really good therapist who asks questions like, Is there another way you can stay connected to your mother besides keeping a spotless house? I need friends who can recognize the glimmers of my emerging parts and assure me that they are not figments of my imagination. I need every kind word uttered by people who meet me and don’t get uncomfortable looks on their faces when I tell them what work I am embarking on, despite my unconventional journey to get there. The innocuous appearance of this process belies the oceans of grief and canyons of fears beneath its surface, and not telling the truth about that part feels like not telling the truth at all.
Yesterday I removed enough stuff from our third-floor walk-up apartment to fill a minivan, and I have another car’s worth to do today. I’d say my body and soul are in a dead heat for the most weary, but I know there is freedom and ease waiting on the other side as I step into new work and into a new season with the visible and invisible unnecessities out of the way.
This is a new conversation for me, and I’m full of curiosity. How has crossing interior thresholds manifested itself for you? What do *you* wish someone had told you about letting go, clearing out, and stepping forward? What do you know now?