As you may have noticed, I’ve been rather negligent in my blogging here these past several days. I just haven’t had my head in a writing sort of mood. Rather, I’ve been in a ‘cleaning out the clutter’ sort of mood instead for the last four days straight and I’m pretty much finished (translation = getting tired of) going through the most cluttered places in the house. I don’t know what got into my head and started me on this almost frenzied desire to clean up and clean out behind-closed-door spaces in my home. It could be the changing of the seasons that is upon us now. It could be that I had been looking for my new glue gun last week and gave up after about ten minutes of searching because I was too impatient. It could be the new meds that have now become settled in my system. It could be just about anything. Whatever the reason, I started four days ago and I’ve been piling up the bags of stuff to go to the thrift shop and sending bags out to the trash bin each night, but it took me until tonight to finally feel pleased with my accomplishment.
Now I know you’re probably thinking, “Why wouldn’t you be pleased? Anyone would be happy to get stuff de-cluttered and cleaned up, wouldn’t they?” Well, sure they would, if they were normal. Since I’m far from ‘normal’ it’s apparent that I didn’t qualify to receive the ‘Normal’ set of ‘Emotion’ components from the manufacturer when I came off the line and as a result I seem to have a completely different set of emotional responses than what ‘normal’ people have. Instead of being all ‘Yahoo!’ and ‘Yippee!’ about having done four days of cleaning and bagging unnecessary excess stuff to go to the thrift shop, I was mostly feeling tired. That’s all. Just tired. Nothing more. Not really happy, not relieved, not proud, not satisfied, not excited, not enthusiastic… just tired… and a little sad.
It took me a while to find my ‘happy’ after all of this. I had to sit for a good long time and let my mind vegetate while listening to the instrumental playlist that I usually only use for writing and editing novel work. I had to wait for a time when my brain was almost shut off and unfocused, not thinking about what I was going to clean next (because I was done cleaning), not thinking about what to do tomorrow (I had no scheduled plans so I could decide later this evening or even wait until morning), not even thinking about what to do for supper (hubby wanted to get pizza from the local take-out later). It was during this brain-numbed relaxing down time that it finally occurred to me that I was actually ‘happy’ about all the cleaning I’d done in the past four days. I was actually happy and I felt good about it. The only reason I realized that I was happy, was because I finally realized why I wasn’t happy: I’d been cleaning out my memories and throwing them away, and that hurt… a lot. That’s what had made me feel the way I had been feeling. That’s why I was so tired. Each evening for the last four evenings I had been emotionally drained after watching myself bag up and get rid of memories.
In the hall linen closet I found a set of guest towels that didn’t match any colours that would ever, at any future time, grace the walls of our home but had been a gift from my In-Laws and I had hung on to them in case they ever checked in my closet to see if I still had them when they visited… since then my Father-in-Law has passed away. In the bathroom shelves I found a box full of baseball-sized bath bombs, two bags of bath salts, and five different bottles of relaxing foaming bath liquid… it’s been at least three years since hubby and I have shared a romantic candlelit soak in the tub and even though the day may come that we might do so again, it’s highly unlikely since I no longer have any desire for physical interaction (a result of the combination of marital problems, my last breakdown and meds). In my bedroom closet I found three old purses I’d never use anymore, five pairs of boots I’d never wear again, four pairs of shoes that weren’t as comfy as I thought they used to be, and two jackets I didn’t like anymore. Then I went through my closet and dresser drawers with the ‘Did you wear it last year?’ philosophy and ended up with two trash bags full of clothes that either didn’t fit properly or that I would likely never wear again. I had been ruthless. Even if I really liked a piece I asked myself very sternly whether it was appropriate for work; if not, then would I wear it out; if not, then it was off to the thrift shop… I culled nearly half of my wardrobe and accepted the fact that: I’ll never get back into those awesome jeans again (but I still tried to get them on for a full ten minutes and even after I could only get them halfway up my thighs I even dared to say out loud to myself “Well, maybe I’ll lose a few pounds” before me and myself had a lovely chuckle and the jeans went into the ‘out’ pile), never wear that favorite sweater again (even though I did put it on and wore it for the entire time I was sorting through the closet and ended up adding four more snags on top of the fifty that it already had, not to mention the hole at the neckline and the ripped side seam), and no matter how long I wait there will never be an event in this small community that would be appropriate for that stunning dress (but if the local Legion hall finally decides to put on a fully formal ‘Black Tie’ New Years Eve Dance and I loose 20 pounds between now and January 1st, I will be really, really, Really miffed).
This is where it gets even more emotional. At the end of each day when I’d finish, I stand back and look at all the bags of stuff and start thinking about the things that went into them: the keepsakes that were gifted to us that we had no place suitable for or that didn’t really match our style so they ended up in the back of a closet for years but I still remember who they were from, that handy gadget we got on sale that we thought we’d use but never actually used after the first try because it was kind of neat but didn’t do what we thought it would and we laughed at how it was such a failure, the pretty thing we found in that gift shop all those years ago that looked so perfect on the shelf above the tv in the entertainment unit we used to have in our first home but now that we’d moved there really isn’t any place that it looks right and we kind of don’t really like it as much anymore, that sexy summer maxi dress I bought when we went to Jamaica that looked so great while we were out for dinner at the resort but there was never any time/place suitable for me to wear it back home, …and on and on it goes. I looked at all the memories that I’d shoved into plastic bags as if they don’t belong to me anymore, as if they never meant anything, and it felt like I was amputating a limb, cutting off a part of myself and tossing it in the trash. It hurt like I was bleeding. It was painful. It made me sad. And that’s why I didn’t feel happy about getting it done. It took time afterwards for me to sit and think about the benefits of clearing the old and unnecessary, useless, unsuitable things from my house and my life, before I finally felt good about it and found peace with letting go of the emotional attachments I had with the ‘things’ I was letting go of. I finally realized that those ‘things’ were just that – ‘things’, not the actual memories themselves. I wasn’t throwing away the memories, I still had those and would keep them forever. This is the realization that brought me the happiness and contentment that was missing before. Now I can be happy about all that I’ve accomplished these past four days. And, in the end, after four days, I have enough stuff for the thrift shop to fill the back of our van.
Tonight, in the moments of this realization came a small epiphany about how the whole process of de-cluttering my house related to my personal struggle with depression and my challenge of trying to cope with it. When I realized exactly why I hadn’t been happy about getting all that cleaning done at first, because I thought I was throwing away my keepsakes and treasures, I also learned that I have been holding on to negative memories and thoughts I don’t need in my head just like I was holding on to all those things I no longer needed in my house. Think of it from this perspective: all those bags of clutter are like a visual representation of some of the memories and moments from the past that once meant something special, that I had at one time wanted, that were once useful to me, things that I had previously thought I’d intended to keep forever but now were no longer happy memories, held no positive meaning, were no longer useful, were painful to remember or were just awkward. They also represented all the negative self-image thoughts I had of myself, thoughts that I had been hoarding, that I had kept tucked away inside my head and allowed to linger and fester in the dark corners of my mind: ugliness, stupidity, clumsiness, being unimaginative and untalented, being useless, unwanted, unliked, and so on. All those bags were the visual representation of the ‘mental’ clutter I needed to get rid of from inside the stuffed closets and over-packed drawers of my mind.
It’s this mental clutter that I need to constantly strive to sort through and get rid of. That is my daily struggle, one in which I sometimes feel like Sisyphus endlessly trying to roll that giant boulder uphill, but I find some days I do manage to get at least one step up to my two steps back. On a good day I might manage to ‘bag up’ a negative thought or two, confront an old memory that I never liked remembering and rationalize it so that I slowly begin to come to terms with it a little more each time. After a couple of days I might even get far enough to actually toss a ‘bag’ out and never look back at it, accepting at last that it’s gone for good. On a bad day I might drag out an old memory that is just too painful and I have to tuck it back into the dark corner of the brain-closet again, knowing that eventually I’ll have to bring it back out and face it eventually but accepting that I’m just not ready to come to terms with it yet. Sometimes there’ll be a week where I won’t even have the emotional strength to do any ‘cleaning’ at all, not even if it’s just to open a single memory-drawer. Those weeks are the hardest ones, but it’s alright to have weeks like that. It doesn’t mean I’ll end up living with the mind-clutter forever, it just means that I have some serious clutter going on and I have to give my heart and soul time to get strong enough to deal with it before I can start de-cluttering again. I know those times will come, I know it’s alright if I don’t have the stamina to deal with them, and I know eventually I will have the strength to do it.
So now, as I sit back and enjoy a heaping bowl of “Tiger Tail” ice cream while listening to ‘Lesgle the Crazy Bird’ (our not-quite-wild-pet-starling… he’s another story altogether) sing along to his MP3 playlist, I am starting to feel proud of my accomplishments of these last four days. I’m sore from all the reaching, lifting, bending and lugging of stuff around, out of and into closets, drawers and shelves, but it’s the kind of ache that comes with knowing it’s the result of a job well done. In contemplating the theoretical similarities between my physical labors and the mental correlations, I don’t feel quite as smug but I do feel that I’ve faced one major negative self-image issue at least: I did some serious self-evaluation regarding weight issues while going through my clothes and accepted the facts: that I will never lose 20 pounds before January, that my weight isn’t really an issue at all, that I’m actually doing alright and have a fairly good eating routine at the moment (… um, yeah, you can just ignore the whole ‘bowl of ice cream’ part that I mentioned earlier). I am physically healthier now than I was this time last year and so, with that in mind, I feel that I have effectively packed up and biffed the voice inside my head that had been calling me ‘fat’ all summer. Sayonara. Adios. Arrivaderci. Outta here. It was a size XL bag. It made me very happy to let it go. I feel pretty darn good now. And yes, the ice cream is delicious, I have no regrets about eating it because you should always remember to give yourself a reward for hard work. Extra reward for extra-hard hard work. Now I might have to find some extra-extra-hard stuff to do tomorrow… this is really delicious ice cream, dammit.
“The next time you decide to unclutter your life and clean up your space, start with the things that are truly useless: like regrets, shame and anger.” – Sandra Kring
PS. Two new poems under the Poetry pages including “Dead Stars and Lost Wishes”, posted below. 🙂