The psychology of a good clear-out

Posted by on Feb 4, 2014 in Christy Writes | 0 comments

I’ve been doing a life purge – a ritualistic and cathartic exercise meant to reduce the clutter in my life both literally and mentally. There’s just so much clutter.

“Simplify…” The screen saver on my PC gently bounces Thoreau’s words in front of me. He meant it as a suggestion, I know, but here among the ephemera of my daily life it’s more like a mockery, an admonition of what I’m doing wrong.

It isn’t just the stuff around me. Compared to how I used to live, this is practically Carmelite. Still, I have too much. Too many clothes in my closet, too many boxes in the attic, too many suitcases in my head. A purge, I realized recently, was the only answer. So for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been going through drawers, cabinets and closets, pulling everything out and relegating it to one of two piles: “Keep” or “Must Go.”

The “Must Go” pile is, predictably, the most telling. Clothing I haven’t worn in thirty pounds, things I have in duplicate (What are the odds that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, all that can save the world is a bizarrely large number of my homemade mini muffins?), and items that are emotionally tainted. My rational mind knows the fuzzy pink slippers given to me two Christmases ago by my then-best friend are just slippers – still perfectly serviceable, still respectably pink. But now they represent negativity, sadness, feelings of failure that have no place in my life anymore. Better they go to warm the feet of someone who really needs them, and who won’t view them as fuzzy twin reminders of the¬†tenuousness and mutability of friendships.

There’s a cleansing power in what my British friends call “a good clear-out,” and particularly in giving things away. It’s empowering to know that the coat I haven’t worn in three seasons will be hung on a rack at the thrift store and bought for a dollar by someone who needs it far more than, God willing, I ever will.

But this is about more than just clearing out clutter, and it’s even about more than a bagful of donations to my local charity. It’s about realizing that my life isn’t about stuff. It’s one of those poster-worthy bits of pop wisdom that actually makes sense. Deep sense. Some artists make collages or sculptures out of the extra stuff they have lying around. I’m not one of those artists, although I did try once. “Abstract Mosaic of 80s Teen Romance Novels and Jeans That Used to Fit” just couldn’t find a toehold in the New York art world. Weird. For me, creativity comes from first getting rid of what I no longer need.

That’s the whole point of this purge, really. It’s about literally and symbolically moving the unnecessary clutter out of the way so that new energy can flow in and fill the space with a positive, creative light that illuminates what I have, who I am, and where I want to go next.

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