IMG_8595Let It Go by Tim McGraw

Hanging on is a natural instinct. It’s primal. We hold on to branches, rails, vines and wires to break our falls – we hold on to the intangible familiar to avoid the scary unknown – we hold on to the things we love because it hurts to let go. But letting go is a must, and doing so can save our lives – or at least our sanity. There is sublime peace in letting go of our loved ones as they grow up or move on, and there is gratifying freedom in letting go of things that weigh us down or hold us back.

Autumn is a season of letting go, as surely as the trees drop their vibrant leaves in red-and-orange glory, belying the fact that they are uselessly dead. Nature liberates the trees, leaving us to rake up messy piles that scatter with the gusts ushering in fall. Meanwhile, spiders spin out sticky traps at a furious pace, creating spooky decor and forcing us to drag out brooms to sweep away the dirty cobwebs. And perhaps it’s just creepy imagination, but my cupboards and closets are suddenly agitated like a haunted house. Where did all this restless junk come from?


Forget spring cleaning… all that needs to be done in the blooming season is to fling open the doors and windows to let the floral-scented breezes blow through, clearing out the cooped-up air. Fall cleaning is really where it’s at. There’s this overwhelming urge to roust out the rattling skeletons and round up the tarnished trinkets that have been carefully displayed but now look like annoying dust collectors. It must be a nesting thing, like a mama bear preparing her cave for a long winter’s nap.

My usual autumn exuberance has been overrun by obsessive de-cluttering this fall. It started with the crunchy leaves littering our front walkway and the spider webs dangling around our front door. Armed with a broom, it was easy to let go of that mess. However, it was a different story when I stepped through the front door. The frenzy began as my decorator daughter with her discerning eye began to chastise in that authoritarian way she has.

“You need to nourish minimalism, Mom. Start by getting rid of the frumpy silk plants. They’re so passé.”

“But look at all beautiful pots they’re in,” I said defensively.

“They just make the rooms look cluttered. Pick your favorite one and get rid of the rest.” Sammi ruthlessly scanned the living room. “What about all these knickknacks left over from your shabby chic days? And all the picture frames plastering every shelf and table?”

“But I love all these photos – they make me happy.”

“That’s what photo albums are for, Mom. If you had to dust all this stuff you’d think twice about keeping it.” Touché.

My daughter’s stab at the luxury of a housekeeper struck home and guilted me into a clutter bust. Some of the beloved objects were difficult to let go, so I hauled them up the ladder to my attic dumping ground where tired treasures could be hidden but not discarded. I switched on the attic light to discover jumbled chaos – there was barely space to crawl around. How did this happen? Just two years ago my older daughter moved home after college and admonished me about the mess in the attic as she tried to find room to store some of her possessions.

“What is all this crap, Mom?” Haley teased me. “Let’s clean up this place and see what goodies you’ve been stashing all these years!” We proceeded to weed through every box and basket and bag and cubby and pile which contained things both useful and sentimental, so I thought.

“Mom, why are you saving these pictures?” Haley questioned as she flipped through a stack of framed artwork leaned against a wall. She lifted an eyebrow at me when she came upon a garish Civil War drawing from an ancient newspaper.

“Hey, that’s probably a valuable antique!” I claimed. “Anyway, I thought you kids might want them for your apartments someday.”

“Honestly, none of us will ever put these in our places. You can get rid of them all.” Oh. “And what about all these boxes of schoolwork and trophies and memorabilia?” Haley looked incredulous that I had saved so much stuff from their childhood.

“Well, you kids will probably want to share these fun things with your own kids someday, won’t you?”

“Mom, I guarantee you that none of us will ever go through all this mishmash. Just pick a few of your favorite things and pitch the rest. Or you can take pictures of the things you really like and make a photo book of treasures.” Hmmm.

Now that is practical sentimentality. Haley shifted my perspective of what is important into what is realistic. As harsh as it felt, it was true – what on earth would my kids do with all of those keepsakes? That October day we restored the attic to a respectable storage room with plenty of space to maneuver around minimal crap. And now here it was, two years later, ludicrously stuffed to the rafters once again. One of my bosom buddies and I made a pact seventeen years ago that if either of us died we would go through the other’s attic, trusting only one another to the horrors of our hoarding. Now, years later, our husbands and grown kids would be the ones to wade through the flotsam and jetsam in the wake of our deaths. Not wanting to put that morbid task on my family, I embarked on the Fall 2014 Purge.

Anecdotally, many realtors say that the typical homeowner lives in their house for 7 years before moving on. Statistically, HousingEconomics.com states that the average buyer moves every 12 years. Stodgy homebodies like us who stay put in the same house for 22 years not only beat the odds but accumulate riffraff, remnants, odds&ends, castoffs and gewgaw at an alarming rate. MOVING is the best cure for clutter, but the next best thing is a relentless expulsion.  Simplifying and embracing minimalism is to feel the lightness of being. Besides, it’s rewarding to know that those 127 books, 5 lamps, 4 rugs, 19 homecoming/prom dresses, 8 bolts of gossamer fabric, 3 bags of Halloween costumes, 2 boxes of holiday decor, 7 silk plants in beautiful pots and 16 pieces of heinous framed artwork will go to people who might actually use and appreciate it. Here are some sparse tips about the fine art of de-cluttering and letting go that I gleaned during The Purge…

◆ Dare to be bare and spare. When I removed objects, the rooms felt rather empty. But after a day or two, the open spaces felt fresh, airy and stylish.

◆ Start small, drawer by drawer, shelf by shelf.

◆ Set goals. Give away one item each day. Fill one trash bag every week. Clean one closet per month.

◆ Stop buying stuff and avoid recreational shopping. As Donald Horban said, “We don’t need to increase our goods as much as we need to scale down our wants. Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.”

◆ Employ the Four Box Method: Set out four big boxes labeled 1) Give Away    2) Throw Away 3) Relocate 4) Reconsider. As soon as a box is filled, take the appropriate action. It’s strangely fulfilling to lug a box to the trash or drive three boxes to the thrift store.

◆ Make a Book of Treasures. Just as we cherish people and places through photographs, so we can enjoy our prized possessions more in a memories book than we can stashed in a dark attic.

The most satisfying part of the Fall Purge is that my Project Room is now a streamlined sanctuary with nothing to distract me from the challenge of writing a book. And just like Sammi helped me take drastic measures to minimize my decor, I need to do something radical to maximize my writing. De-cluttering cleared the way for focused creativity, so I’ll be adventuring to the formidable land of NaNoWriMo to let go of my writing inhibitions.

November is National Novel Writing Month with the objective to write a 50,000 word book in 30 days. The pressure of spitting out 1,700 words a day without the tedious self-editing that typically accompanies my writing process is just the thing I need to shake things up. To be sure, the end result will be a very messy, terribly unreadable draft, but like I tell my writing students at Richmond High: Rough drafts don’t need to be perfect, they just need to be written! Imagine the fun I’ll have de-cluttering that manuscript.


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Yasmine Austere
    Oct 27, 2014 @ 18:45:51

    I cleaned out my closet this month and took over 50 pieces of clothing to the consignment shop plus I took a whole suitcase of clothes to Mallorca for my sister. Next I will clean out my two little storage rooms downstairs some more to create room for a new venture…. and it feels so very good 🙂 It seems the Virgos are on a mission this fall 🙂
    Cant wait to see you


  2. Margaret Cavalli
    Oct 27, 2014 @ 20:21:12

    Hi Jana, loved this recent blog. Your thoughts hit home oh so precisely. I’m happy you are purged, organized and ready to write!


  3. Carolyn Rovner
    Oct 27, 2014 @ 20:57:31

    Well said, Jana! As a new “empty nester”, I am looking at my home with a much more critical eye and finding that I’m “married” to nothing (except Jeff) and pretty much hate everything! It’s time for a new look! So glad to read you again! Hope you’re well…


  4. brendadit
    Oct 28, 2014 @ 04:37:59

    Perfect. As you know, you are speaking our language!


  5. Judy Roberto
    Oct 28, 2014 @ 04:53:24

    Jana! I just love your musings. Good luck with the novel.


  6. Karen Larson
    Oct 28, 2014 @ 14:57:00

    Jana, I loved reading this! I’m inspired, both by your de-cluttering, and by your NaNoWriMo adventure! Here’s to written first drafts!


  7. Jacqi Roueche
    Nov 06, 2014 @ 03:05:10

    Beautifully written as well as so helpful to have that extra nudge. Thanks Jana!


  8. terismyth
    Nov 10, 2014 @ 00:01:56

    I can appreciate downsizing our wardrobes and getting rid of clutter. But one can go too far. My husband decided to take ALL of my 29 year old son’s clothes and store them in boxes in the attic. Now, I realize that I shouldn’t need to store his things anymore after all, he won’t be moving back home. But, I’ve always prided myself that if he stopped by, or ever spent the night (which never happens) he would find a nice pair of shorts or cozy sweats, or a perfectly ironed dress shirt to choose from. Blah, blah, blah. I know. He was right.

    There is NO WAY I’m letting him get rid of the toy chest that I have saved for my grand kids. Inside I have saved all of the favorite bat man figurines, Lion King characters, and various other toys that I couldn’t part with. Of course neither of my boys are anywhere near getting married.It doesn’t matter. It makes me happy to know they are still there.
    Good luck with your writing project Jana. You inspire me.


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