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How External Clutter Makes for Internal Clutter

I have a love hate relationship with stuff. I have long believed that my brain doesn’t work well when my house is a mess. Of course, that doesn’t mean I like housework. Can you see how complicated this is? Lol.

Woman sitting around a messy room unhappy

longer had to make do my mother no longer needed to save every paper bag or coffee tin that came into the house. Instead, she became a collector of things. A lot of things.

She would buy something or be gifted a nice item and would pack it away declaring either that she was saving it for a special occasion or that it would be worth money one day. As a child I grew up in a house with every closet in the three bedrooms filled to the door jamb with boxes floor to ceiling, and cupboards in the basement stacked with dishes we never used. Not to mention that most available space in our basement was also stacked with boxes, mostly cardboard.

My mother and I used to have an ongoing friendly argument about her collections. I would tell her she needed to sort through stuff and weed it out. Mainly I did this knowing that I, her only child would be forced to do it when she passed and I didn’t want that burden and guilt and partly, because I knew that even though it made her feel secure knowing she had things, it wasn’t helping her move on and live her life going into the future. She would get huffy and tell me, that my generation isn’t going to have anything on this plant to show they had been here. I would laugh and tell her that her generation didn’t leave us any room. But I also took her point to heart. Do I really want stuff left behind just show I was there? Shouldn’t we attempt to get through life with the smallest impact to our environment in a negative way as possible?

My mother has been gone for three years now, and this weekend I finally broke down and said it was time to empty the basement. We moved back to my childhood home when my mother took ill and the house was passed to me, so we have been working to renovate and do justice to my family’s homestead. My grandparents had the

woman with all the clutter in her mind from her external clutter surrounding her.

house before my parents. However, this decision that today was the day did not come with easy emotions. I had chosen to not touch the basement out of respect to my mother and her belongings, but it was not without pains to me. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have had nightmares about the mess that was the basement. I would have anxiety every time the cable guy would show up and need to go down there. Not to mention my hatred for all the stuff my mother coveted so much over the years that I was not allowed to gain a sentimental attachment to it, because I would get yelled at when I got close to it.

So, Saturday morning, I began on one side in the back and filled my dining room with all the musty boxes, totes, bags, etc. I’m not going to lie I cried many tears as I trudged yet another box from the back of the basement, up the stairs and into my dining room. Saturday was a release of years of anger, resentment, whatever made me hate random boxes of stuff so much. At one point I messaged a friend and told her I wasn’t sure how much more I could handle emotionally. Later in the day, one of my daughters came over and helped me, which helped get my mind off my frustrations and we were able to laugh reminiscing about my mother getting some trinket at a yard sale and be sure it was worth more than the twenty-five cents she paid for it and into a box it would go. By the end of the day, I felt a satisfaction for what we had managed to accomplish, which is only a fraction of what is down there, but it was a start. I was not looking forward to Sunday morning and greeting the mess that was now my dining room.

By Sunday morning, I was feeling ok with what I had started the day before. I did some journaling and reminded myself of a few things. 1) The items in all those boxes had done its job. It gave my mother security and a sense of wealth. 2) These were not my things, and it was ok that I didn’t feel the same attachment to them she had, even though she tried many times to shame me into it. 3) The money spent on these items was gone a long time ago. 4) I didn’t want to pass this mess along to my daughters to deal with once I passed away.

With those ideas clear in my mind, I set to the harder work of sorting the boxes. I too am a frugal Yankee and would not just throw out a box of items without first going through them. As I began, I set up a little photo area, where I could wipe up the items I thought might sell and snap a picture to put online. But what I did next was the one thing that set my mind at ease with the whole situation. I sent my daughters the pics I took and told them if there was something they wanted, they were more than welcome to it. And that was how the day went. It was my husband’s turn to clean out the “home maintence” side of the basement, where my mother kept everything, my father ever bought in case she needed it.

I’m not going to lie and say that it was all just my mother’s there was plenty of my own children’s things that needed sorting and purging as well. I didn’t finish. My dining room is still filled to the brim with boxes and stuff yet to be sorted, but I picked this weekend to start, so that I would have until the week before Thanksgiving to get the entire basement cycled through and still have my dining room for the big day.

After so much turmoil and avoidance, last night when my husband and I finally sat down on the porch I felt lighter. Really, it isn’t just a saying. I literally felt like the hundreds of pounds of stuff we decided to throw away had been sitting on my shoulders and was now gone. In the middle of the night, I woke up with the strangest feeling from out of the blue. My inner voice told me that I was now able to let more abundance into my life because I am making room for it. I have this feeling of new beginnings and refreshed everything.

For the past three years I had been actively avoiding the basement and its contents. I would tell myself that it wasn’t in my way, and that it wasn’t doing any harm so I would get to it when it was convenient. Guess what? It was never going to be convenient, and it really was doing far more damage than I could have expected. I am far from finished, but now that I know how freeing it is I am motivated. I will save my girls things that were important to them during childhood and certain things that hold meaning for me, I have very clear rules for something to live in a box, away from eyes and useful hands ever again in my house.

I know I sound very bitter and resentful toward my mother, and to some extent I am. But she taught me a lesson that have lived by since I was an adult and could choose what stayed in my environment and what left. If I love something it will never go in a box and not get used. A gift or purchase has an intended use, and we are doing a disservice to that object and its creator or giver not to enjoy it. When I no longer have love or a use for something, if I can rehome it I will, but otherwise I consider it to have lived its life well and get rid of it.

woman at the beach with her computer happy and writing without the mind clutter of "stuff"

What does all this have to do with writing and being stuck writing? Before you chalk it up to being blocked assess your life as it is currently. No judgement. How is life going? Are there things weighing you down that you have convinced yourself you are fine with? As a writer or any creative your brain is already full of your ideas, dreams, whatever, there is little space left for clutter. For me the external clutter was causing massive amounts of internal clutter and gunking up the works.

It may not be a full basement of stuff, it could be a full sink of dishes, or a huge pile of clean, unfolded clothes, been there done that, if it is something you can just do and release the guilt, stress, anxiety, whatever is attached to it do it and then assess how you feel. Maybe you will feel lighter like me and be able to open space for those words you have been missing.

Have you ever had a similar experience? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Also, check out my blog post on sacred spaces to delve more into how our environment can help to set the mood for getting words on the page.

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