I’m flattered to be asked to write a guest blog for Jennifer. It’s taken me a while to put ‘pen to paper’ or in reality ‘fingers to keyboard’, but life has been all consuming in particular from January 2015.
I was at the end of 24 months of de-cluttering my house of both my own and my parents’ belongings. I had emptied the contents of my parents’ house into mine following Dad’s death so Mum could sell her house and move on.
Mum and Dad lived in a three bedroom bungalow in the countryside in North Tipperary. Along with the house, Dad had also built several sheds, a garage, greenhouse, etc. After living there for over 40 years every building was full. Dad’s death in 2006 occurred four weeks after his diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive malignant brain tumour. Mum decided she wanted to move into residential assisted living accommodation. This didn’t happen until September 2011, and thankfully she is extremely happy in her new apartment. She wanted to sell the house quickly but it had to be emptied first. When my brother came home on holidays from England he focused on clearing the sheds.
I focused on clearing the house and travelled down from Kildare at weekends or in the evening after work. Mum came to the house on the first few occasions to say what she did and didn’t want to keep. She wasn’t interested after that, and I was then on my own to make the decisions of what to keep, give away and dump. The quickest way to empty her house was to bring the stuff back up to Kildare to sort in my own time.
By the time I finished emptying her house in June 2012, my house was choking with her personal and house contents. I was mentally and physically drained, and couldn’t bear to go near it or look at it even though it had taken over most rooms of my house. After a break of a few months I tried to start decluttering my house but couldn’t. There was too much stuff and no where in my house to put anything. In early January 2013 I borrowed a friend’s 4-person tent which they kindly erected in my back garden. I moved a lot of the contents from a few rooms into it. I now had some space to start tidying and got rid of a few bags. However, that only lasted six weeks as the wind ripped the tent and I had to move the contents back into the rooms I had previously emptied. I started again.
I decided to not only sort the stuff from Mum’s house but also to declutter my own house too. If I hadn’t used an item or didn’t really like it, I got rid of it. Keeping focused, determined and motivated has been really difficult since I started in January 2013. By either just sorting a bag at a time, or doing a half hour’s clear up, meant it was a bag or half hour less to be done. It was the only way I could think “theUPSIDE”, the only way I could face the job at hand and complete it. I had to break it down into tiny jobs, otherwise it would never happen.
It was as emotionally exhausting as I had thought it would be. Days or weeks would pass by and I would ignore it, and then I had many consecutive days when I dug deep and I was able to focus. On many occasions I ‘hit a huge wall’. But as no one else could sort it for me, I dragged myself back screaming to do another bag. On a few occasions a friend would come over and chat to distract me while I worked away.
I hated it. I hated having to do it. I hated how it took over my mind. I hated how it took over my house. I hated how it took over my life. If I wasn’t physically looking at it, it took over my mind and was a constant topic of conversation. I was bored listening to myself. I was bored looking at all the stuff. I was scared both of the amount of stuff to sort, and the amount of emotions and memories sitting there, stagnant, and going nowhere. I ignored it as much as possible.
I gave myself a totally unrealistic goal of 6 weeks to de-clutter my house; it actually took me 17 months and I gave 32 car loads and 2 jeep loads of ‘things’ to charity, 3 car loads to the dump, and filled 4 skips of rubbish.
The last hurdle involved sorting paperwork which I commenced in January 2015. Emotions were raw as I addressed both difficult and happy memories evoked by each book, photograph, diary, school report. Tears prevented me from continuing many times, but I kept going back. I was determined to finish. I had found the floors in my house, found the furniture, found space in wardrobes, cupboards and drawers.
Memories, good and bad, were not going to stop me from finishing. I switched myself off from the world. I had to. I had to concentrate and focus to finish. I needed the space, the physical, mental and emotional space to let go and move on.
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones” Confucius