Regular blog readers will know that I’m on a long-term de-cluttering exercise, and attempting to live something of a more minimalist lifestyle. As I work my way through my house, I have got to the point where I’m nearly rid of all the clutter that doesn’t really matter to me. I’ve got rid of a giant teetering pile of books, all the clothes that I’ve kept in the mistaken belief that I’ll get thinner, taller or suddenly be able to wear low-rise skinny jeans, loads of old paperwork and everything I’ve kept ‘just in case it might be useful’ – and it’s been relatively painless, once I dealt with my book guilt. In something of a landmark moment, I’ve even finally accepted that my beloved blue Converse are more hole than trainer and let them go…
Now I’ve moved onto the more challenging things. A couple of things that I’ve recently got rid of have made me cry. Firstly an enormous, half-finished Beatrix Potter cross-stitch. I started this in the summer of 2006, when I was pregnant with my daughter. It was one of those ‘I’m going to be a perfect mummy’ kind of plans. I was going to finish it before her arrival, get it framed and smugly hang it in her bedroom. And then it all fell apart. Thirty weeks into the pregnancy, I became really ill with pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome and she arrived far too early for me to finish it. But in all honesty, even if the pregnancy had been text-book perfect, I was unlikely to have managed it. The simple reason? I didn’t really enjoy it. It was far too big and complicated and I’m just not very good at sitting still and concentrating on one thing for that amount of time. A lesson in not trying to be someone I’m not, perhaps.
I suppose it was the first of my failures in the attempt to be a perfect parent. These days, I am definitely not a perfect parent, and far less stressed about the whole thing. But six years after I started that damn cross stitch, there it was, every time I opened the drawer in my bedroom, taunting me about my failure and giving me a giant dose of guilt. Every time I came across it, I thought fleetingly ‘I must finish that’ before hastily shutting the drawer and putting it – and the guilt – out of my mind. Not this time though. This time, I got it out of the drawer and sat thinking about it – and having a little cry – before asking for a second opinion.
Thankfully, I have the best friends in the world, and so that second opinion was a wonderful one. One that said ‘you’re not a failure for not finishing this. It was started with love, and that love still exists, even if the finished article does not’. The love that I have for my daughter, and the six years worth of things we have shared more than makes up for not having finished one lousy cross-stitch. It went into the bin and I don’t have any regrets.
The second thing that I have finally got rid of is a guide book for Mongolia. From 1999. Hmm. I was supposed to go to Mongolia for a few months through a Raleigh International scheme, but no-one told me until I’d got to the end of the application process that because I was in the final year of my degree, I was ineligible. Marvellous. Still, I have hung onto the dream since then. I long to visit Mongolia; the vast open spaces, wildlife, last vestiges of a nomadic, horse-reliant culture and the reintroduced takhi (Przewalski) horses are something I refuse to get to the end of my life without witnessing.
Hence my ancient guide book.
I know, though, that if I ever do manage to finally make it to Mongolia, I’ll need a new guide book. So why have I hung onto this one for so long? It is the misguided belief that my dream is somehow inextricably linked with it. That without the book, the chances of me finally getting to realise a long-held ambition are doomed. This is replicated across many other things that I own, and that I’ve struggled to let go of. Half finished plans, guide books for places I’ve planned to go but never visited, books bought but never read, kit for various activities and sports going dusty…
The other reason I have hung onto things is because they have links to memories; places I have been, people I have known, experiences I have had. In some cases, the memento or souvenir is rather nice. In the vast majority of cases, it’s an old bus ticket, an unused piece of equipment, an ancient t-shirt. What I have come to realise, is that I don’t need to keep all of these things in order to retain the memory. I have never forgotten my old friends, regardless of whether I have kept mementoes of things we have done together. I’ve never forgotten holidays that I have taken or adventures that I have had, whether or not I’ve kept the tickets! And, as a friend of mine pointed out a while ago, I could always take photos of things before letting them go, if I really need to.
So, it is time for me to let go of these things. To rely on my friends to help me with the invisible tentacles that each item might hold around my heart, and to help me see that my dreams and my memories are not linked to my things, but rather that they live on inside me.
In my last post, I mentioned an article by Lesley Garner that I’d found, amidst my clutter, about de-cluttering. The irony is not lost on me. This time, I’m going to quote from it a little: ‘Clearing clutter means shedding dreams. But the funny thing is, I can throw things out because I still believe in the dreams themselves. The clutter is the husk of hope that never flew. But hope itself is inexhaustible. De-cluttering is necessary because new dreams need space to grow in’.
In clearing my house of the clutter from unrealised dreams, I am not killing the dreams themselves. In clearing my house of the clutter from things in my history, I am not wiping out my memories. I am making space, both for my mind and body to live in and for my new dreams to grow in.