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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Cleaning up and...

Clearing Out

When we clean out the junk drawer...we are in some small way dealing with the detritus of breathless hurry and our corresponding inability to focus. We are beginning to tear through the sticky web that binds us to our past: not only to the fine and happy times, the poignant seasons of growth and change, but also to the tears we once shed, the idols we once worshiped, the myths we once believed, and the lies we once told ourselves.”
Paula Huston (Simplifying the Soul, p.4)

My sons and I just cleaned out a large storage unit. Most of it is inventory for their eBay business, and since I have the space, eighty percent of it ended up in my basement. For the most part, it is on shelves, sorted and labeled and pretty well organized. It did require, however, that stored items belonging to me be moved to other parts of the basement. Long story short, I have been trying to spend some time each day going through, and clearing out things that accumulated over time. I always begin this process feeling gob-smacked by the shear randomness of it. How did this box of nails end up in the bin of old table cloths? What do these keys unlock, and why did I save these old drawer pulls? There are rusty paper clips, broken jewelry, a Winnie the Pooh coin bank and several tubes of water color paint all together in the same plastic bin. I could go on and on for days—papers from my mother's house, tax papers from someone I don't even know that somehow got lumped into a box of old kitchen ware, old newspaper clippings from when I lived in Raleigh in the 1970's. Thirty-year-old birthday cards and Christmas cards, and cards bought and never sent. In short, what Paula Huston refers to as “detritus of breathless hurry and corresponding inability to focus.”

We humans are like pack rats; we, or at least I, lay things down thinking I'll clean that up later, and then life intervenes and I forget. I wonder whether you do that, too. Not infrequently, I search for something that I know I have, but can't find in all the chaos, so I go and buy more, and that too, becomes part of the accumulation. During the clearing out of all this stuff, I remember and question. I review snippets of life lived at other times, memories of what happened then, and what I was like at that stage of life. In some ways, cleaning up and clearing out my accumulated junk is how I let go of lingering stains and resentments. It becomes a cleansing of the basement, and a cleansing of the soul. I wonder what each item represents, and why I cling to it. I project into the future, and realize that whoever ends up cleaning out my house when I am gone will certainly not feel the same. Does an object, even if it was made by my grandmother, even if it belonged to my father, hold the spirit of that person? If I didn't remember I had it, am I really all that invested in keeping it? All these questions arise and clear, arise and clear.

As boring as it is, I highly recommend this process. Simplifying life, in all its iterations, is good for the soul. Clearing out the junk drawer, a closet, the basement, the garage or the attic is spiritually and psychologically cathartic. You'll be surprised how much lighter you feel when it's done.

                                                              In the Spirit,


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