Since the beginning of the year, I have, little by little, been sorting through each and every thing I own; deciding what is of use and/or value to me, and what I no longer like or use and can be passed onto someone else who will appreciate it more.
Having come out of both a long-term relationship and a long-standing job last year, it felt like the right time to embark on this house clearing; particularly when I heard that this decluttering of our physical environment is, spiritually speaking, symbolic of the decluttering of our mind and emotions; letting go of the old to make room for the new.
This held great resonance for me at this juncture in my life.
And besides, my heart had already been nudging me in this direction. Even as far back as the end of last October when, on spending four days in a beautiful gallery-like space as I shared my pottery with the public for the first time, I was struck by how calm and peaceful I felt spending all day each day surrounded by a variety of beautifully displayed handmade objects and the striking nature all around.
I decided then to create a similarly beautiful and harmonious feel to my living space. To purge my space of anything that no longer resonated with me. To keep only the things that I felt embodied the essence of me and/or were useful in my everyday life. And, at the same time, to design my space in such a way that it was both beautiful and practical at the same time.
I have to say I had no idea what I was embarking on. I mean, I knew this would be a big project. But I had no idea quite how big. I naively imagined I’d be able to get the three main rooms I live in cleared during the winter months, so that come the spring I could put it all behind me as a ‘job well done’ and focus on making pottery in my non-working hours again.
In hindsight I grossly underestimated the scale of the project. I have lived in this house for 11 years now, and in all that time I have hardly ever so much as reorganized my cupboards, never mind tackled the ever growing abundance of things. Many of them nice things to be sure. And many of them useful. But, considering the fact that I moved into this house with little more than some clothes, some bedding, some books and some CDs; and have actually bought very little over the years, it is amazing what I have managed to accumulate!
Anyone who has ever lived in Japan will maybe understand, but I have been blessed indeed by the generosity of the people in my circle. A sofa here; a washing machine there; a bread maker a few years on; a kitchen dresser; a massage chair! I have also been fortunate enough to acquire a lot of what I have needed from non-Japanese residents returning home and either selling off their belongings cheap, or kindly leaving them in my care. This is how I got my kitchen table, my kotatsu, a big closet in my bedroom, and another bread maker, which I have just given into the care of friends.
Most of these things, in fact, are things I intend to keep. But then there were the clothes that I no longer wore and couldn’t see myself wearing again anytime soon because my circumstances just didn’t really call for it; the drawers full of photos, letters, New Years’ cards, instruction booklets for appliances I no longer even used, old tax receipts…; the cups and plates someone had given me when they were clearing out and I didn’t like and had never used; and the overwhelming piles of books and DVDs that had spilled out of their allotted space in my bookcases and were starting to take over discreet areas of floor space to boot.
I have always prided myself on my ability to make my living space look nice, and much of this was hidden below the surface; but it was time to really probe those depths and take control of my space; rather than allowing it to grow organically, letting things overrun it as the years go by.
It has been a slow process; but, little by little, I am working through these things; discarding the useless; setting aside bags of things to give away to friends if they want them; and making a pile of the rest so I can take it to a nearby recycle shop when I’m finally done. It has been gratifying to discover that, of the rooms I have tackled so far, nearly everything I no longer have a use for has already been given a good home with one or another of my friends. What no longer serves me is often just what my friend is looking for. I like to think of them getting joy out of it as they use it in their daily life; for I do believe that when we use something with love, joy and gratitude we give meaning to its existence.
It is now August, and I’m still not even halfway done. In truth I haven’t even finished the first 3 rooms I had intended to do during the winter months, though they are now 90% complete.
It has been a great lesson for me in accepting and working with my limitations. I have been forced to revise my goals and substitute them with more realistic ones, as the days and weeks pass and still there is so much left to do.
More than anything, I severely underestimated my mental and emotional resistance. After an initial surge of action, I spent most of the winter months feeling depressed and unmotivated. And not just towards the clearing. I couldn’t seem to motivate myself to do anything much at all. Far from feeling peaceful and calm, everything started coming up for me. I now felt the full force of the emotional devastation and isolation from the lost relationship. Far from being able to clear space in my life for the new, I seemed to be stuck squandering my days in attachment to the old. I knew that going back to the relationship wasn’t right for me, but still couldn’t quite let it go. Sadness permeated my days and it is only as I have started to clear that – by being with it, listening to it, and releasing it bit by bit – that I have found the energy to also clear my physical space.
I believe there is a lesson here on being patient and giving ourselves the time we need, at the same time as helping ourselves to move forward by letting go of as much of the past as we can and focusing on the present moment and our vision for the future.
I believe there is another lesson, also, on the way change plays itself out in our lives. When we shake up our lives in such a dramatic way we are bound to meet with resistance. Our egos hate change – it pulls the rug out from under their feet and throws them into disarray, plaguing them with fear and illusions of danger.
If we are not bold and courageous this fear can hold us back; literally take us back into the very circumstances we are trying so hard to leave behind.
I feel like I’ve been braver in this past year than I’ve ever been in my life before. Fear has sometimes taken root in my mind and emotions, making me wonder what on earth I am doing, where on earth my life is now going; creating a block of ice in my stomach that has spread through my veins, dragging on my limbs and preventing me from moving forward at the pace that I envisioned. Sometimes this fear has made me wonder if it would, in fact, not just be safer and easier and altogether less hassle and hardship just to go back to the life I lived before. A life which, in all truth, was a happy one in many ways, rather than forging forward into the disquietude of the great unknown.
But through it all I have somehow been able to hold onto the quiet voice inside that tells me that it is important to honor myself and the decisions I have made; that taking a step backward will never be able to lead me to fulfillment and happiness; and that somehow, in the end, everything is going to be alright.
Along the way it has sometimes felt like I’ve taken one step forward and two back. But when I look back to where I was a year ago, I can see just how far I’ve come. And each little step I’ve taken – whether it’s been a physical space I’ve cleared in my house, something I’ve cleared and released emotionally, or a limiting belief I’ve let go of – has given me a sense of increased empowerment and calm.
I can’t deny that it’s been a rocky road; but it feels like I’m back in the driving seat again, taking control of my life and the direction it’s taking, even if it is only one kilometer at a time. While it may be a scary ride some of the time, it isn’t one I’d miss for anything. And, as I look at the wide road full of infinite possibilities before me, I, once more, consciously let go of the past and open myself up to embrace whatever lies ahead.