Cultivating Space

My husband says to our children, “If I disappear, look for me in a Goodwill store!” His fear stems from the reality that I have been emptying our home of a lifetime of purchases since 2006. I take great pleasure in getting rid of things we don’t need. I still need Dan, so he is safe.

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t organizing and cleaning. Even as a young child, I was checking drawers and lining crayons and pens in neat rows. I asked permission to arrange my mother’s “top drawer” in the kitchen containing her receipts, pens, stamps, address book, and wallet. I would do the same with the top drawer that my dad had in the kitchen containing electrical tape, measuring tape, twine, and glue. At that time, it made no sense as to why I needed to line up items and dust out pencil shavings. Now I better understand what this provided.

I was alone a fair amount of time with a very cold, busy, and angry stay at home mother. Life was calmer, staying out of sight. I found solace in the outdoors and the company of my toys. I found beauty in library books and nature and the kindness of teachers. I longed for care but found it mostly in creating order.

When kindness is lacking, and there is little to no touch, we live in the inner turmoil of hurt, loneliness, and anger. The best escape to this internal chaos is to arrange the external world into something that we can manage and control. But what that creates, in the long run, is a disparity between what is internally true versus what is true externally. Too often, my effort to buy and then order my external world made me a slave to my possessions.

I believe that possessions have weighed me down for a long time. I watched my parents during their final years and longed to hurl books, shoes, notes from college, and wood saved in their garage (just in case you needed a longboard to create a make-do skating rink on the driveway) out of their home. After a while, external possessions mock us in our effort to use them to silence our internal war. But obviously, we are not meant to throw everything away.

It seemed reasonable and proper to save unique school papers of our children and favorite baby clothes that I treasured. Photo albums documenting all holidays and birthdays seemed the wise and sensible way to live. You would think that owning seven houses and living in four rentals in seven states would have weeded tons of possessions out. It did, and it didn’t. Possessions keep me hostage to sorrow and sentimentality.

Why, oh why, did so many things get saved? Why could I not let everything go? There are items I wished I had saved. My parents’ plaid jackets they would wear gardening. (Were they bought on their honeymoon in Arrowhead Springs during the war?). A white ceramic pitcher and basin, probably the only item my mother had of her childhood. (Was this from my great grandmother who used it on her ranch in Throckmorton, Texas?)

As I write, I feel the teeter-totter goes up and down as I miss some of what I have discarded and decided to keep. I finally have two empty attics and hope never to put anything in an attic again! The breath I breathe when I have less stuff around me is sweet. In some ways, I have only begun!

I need more space in my heart, and the giving away of the past seems to bring a lightness to my being.

The lighter I feel correlates with the energy to be alive and free from unnecessary possessions. They are lovely, but the older I get, the more I realize what lies ahead can’t be satisfied by mere materiality. I can’t organize my world to find joy, but I can lighten the load so that I have more room in me for the delight and comfort I so seldom experienced as a child.

The more space that I open up in my heart to what God meant for me to know, the less I need to clutter myself with gods that need to be organized and eventually discarded for other things to take its place. I might have come to realize that peace comes without the need for any piece.

Originally posted on Red Tent Living.