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The Practice of Making Space

Updated: Jul 29

If you’ve followed this blog or the podcast, then you know I refer often to the practice of purging, which I willingly do on a regular base in our house. Five people – three kids – with active lives means every day something (or piles of things) comes walking in our door that needs to be sorted, cleaned, and found a home.

I am of the mindset that most things that come home do not need to stay here, but when sentimentality and a span of ages get involved, it can be harder to throw away things that might be considered not worth the space they occupy. With a little more time on our hands this summer, I thought it a perfect opportunity to touch nearly everything in the house and ask again if it needs keeping.

It can be an overwhelming proposition. It’s a tricky balance to know when it’s time to part with things, especially when they trigger memories strong with emotion. Old memories, reminders of eras gone and almost forgotten, markers that tell us time is passing quickly and these are the things that prove we’ve been here.

In her book, It’s Not Your Money, Tosha Silver talks of cleaning out our homes as a spiritual practice with the goal of creating a cosmic vacuum for a different kind of abundance to find us. I love this idea, because, for me, that kind of free and clear space means we are light on the earth, ready to pivot easily and at a moment's notice. Where some feel their stuff gives them a sense of place, lack of stuff gives me the feeling that I belong anywhere.

To walk into my house you might think, she’s already done it! The tidy façade of clean countertops and vacuumed floors is surely an indication of what’s also behind door number one. But you would be wrong. This is where Silver’s book makes an important distinction that caught my attention: a tidy home is one thing, but the kind of clean space she is suggesting is where you simply have less stuff even if your living space isn’t tidy. In other words, feel free to live in a mess, just make sure everything surrounding you has a reason for being there.

This is the goal, but keeping things tidy behind the scenes requires time and discipline that I rarely have. So, when I go into a season of big purges to set this right, my process of getting there, historically, is all wrong. I get in way over my head and empty entire rooms from top to bottom thinking I’ll have it all sorted, cleaned, and put back before dinner. The result is usually that I’m left standing in piles of stuff, where everyone helping me has wandered off, and I’m pushing back tears of overwhelm because there is way more to process than time in the day.

This is surely not an experience singular to me, as might be evidenced by the explosion of TV shows, books, and organizational systems that came on the market during the pandemic when the whole wide world suddenly had time at home to finally get their sh*t organized. I was right there with everyone else, buying loads of plastic containers, baskets, and customizable labels so that everything, down to rubber bands and the ice cream scoop had its very own place to call home.

So, this summer, I’m revisiting this annual endeavor with a different approach. If the act of cleaning out is indeed bent towards the spiritual then perhaps I can treat this as more of a mindfulness practice. Similar, say, to the Amish who consider everything they do - from mowing the lawn to chopping carrots - meditation and prayer. This sounds way better than my version that looks more like a fire drill where we all come out the other side liking me a little less than before.

And so, we started a few weeks ago with just the bookshelves in two rooms. It was manageable, everyone kind of kept their focus, except when they remembered how much they like to read and stopped to throw back a chapter or two. But even still, we went through everything and had the shelves put back together and the donation box by the front door shortly after lunch. Phew! The next day, we moved on to one closet and got that emptied in no time, the donation pile getting bigger by the hour.

Then I went rogue and changed tactics. The new meditation was to be aware of how I felt when opening a cupboard or drawer. If it gave me pause, a feeling of frustration, or made finding something a chore, then it got my attention immediately. Those cookbooks that lean against the vitamin jars? Sorted. The grocery bag drawer that never closes right? Fixed. The night table that was so full I couldn’t find anything? Now so empty my lip balm swims laps when I open the draw.

I really think we might be on to something here. A little bit every day. Micro-purging for the win. And the surprising benefit is that in these short spurts of organizing, we don’t fall into decision exhaustion, which makes the choices around keeping a broken toy or a memory-heavy keepsake so much easier.

In these quick touches, on a much smaller scale, it’s so much easier to be mindful and present.

Who knew this would be the game changer? And when we put on an old, favorite album that gets the blood pumping, it’s also a reminder that sometimes the best memories don’t live in our stuff, they live in our minds. So we'll carry on this way throughout the summer - a little bit Amish, and a little bit rock n roll.

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