Of Mice and Life

A couple of weeks ago I helped teach a Sunday school lesson to six-year olds–some of the wisest people around. On the table we had pictures for them to chose from; they were to pick something they were grateful for and share it with the class. One beautiful little Swedish girl with blonde curly hair and big blue eyes held up a picture of a frown. She said that she was grateful for sadness because when you cry it lets out all the tears and you feel good again.

Oh, to be that self-aware at the tender age of 6! To know that pain, disappointment, frustration, and sadness, are not only necessary parts of life, but parts we can be grateful for and appreciate.

Is there anything awful that has happened to you that you can now appreciate?

About three weeks ago, on the heels of our week long get-a-way to Dubai, we came home to mouse poop in my art room. On the floor of the room, in the corner, was a box I was getting ready to send to my son on his mission. It was filled with his favorite Marabou chocolates. I picked it up and saw the cardboard had been nibbled away and inside the truffles had been eaten—at least the mice had good taste.

I did more digging and found mouse poop behind my bookshelf, on top of art sketchbooks and even in my vertical file folders where I keep inspirational photos and other notes. Oh the grossness of it all!! Ewwww! I cleaned and cleaned, tossing previously cherished notebooks and art supplies into garbage bags until I had three bags filled. I vacuumed and wiped everything down with bleach water then stepped back and took notice of what suddenly looked so much better. My studio space was finally cleaned. My easel looked more inviting and the light coming in the room felt crisper. I no longer had sketchbooks crammed into the shelf and unused scrapbook paper stuffed between spaces. My things had breathing room…and so did I.

But my cleaning adventure wasn’t over. The mice kept up the invasion. During the following week I discovered mice had been in two storage rooms downstairs, an upstairs closet and our pantry. It was war. We set up traps everywhere. I went into full psycho cleaning mode. We caught four of them plus two tails. Ewwww! We’re not sure where the tailless ones went, but we filled any holes we could find in the walls or baseboards with silicon. Even a hole the size of a pen is small enough for a mouse to fit through.

I ignored whatever else I’d had on the calendar to do (which was a lot) that week and focused on the battle. If you’ve ever seen the movie Mousetrap, you know what I’m talking about. Week two of my Catch-the-Mice campaign they went into a full retreat, but not before I had to vacuum one up with my Miele after it jumped out of the pantry I was cleaning. Eeeek!

All totaled, I threw away 15 garbage bags of stuff and took 15 more to Goodwill and the beggar lady that lives by the grocery store where I shop, including a sack filled with hotel soaps, shampoos, lotions and toothbrushes, enough for years supply—what was I saving it for?

And here’s the thing…I’m STILL cleaning. When this happened, a friend of mine shared a book with me, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing,” by Marie Kondo. I read it and it transformed my life. What I actually mean to say is, I DID what the book said and it transformed my life. Because of those awful mice, I found the motivation I needed to let go and get rid of things I’d been holding onto for way too long.

Believe me, when mouse poop gets on your stuff, you get real clear about priorities. What you think is so important takes on a whole new perspective. You realize almost anything can be tossed.

And why was I living with so much stuff? You know how much energy it takes to move stuff? Even an excess of hangers or tea mugs or socks, whatever it is, takes your energy. And it takes your space. Not just your physical space, but also your mental space. You have to see it and the brain has to process the information of what’s in your visual line of sight. If you have a lot of stuff your brain is constantly in commotion. Clean your space and your thoughts clear too. It’s magic, it really is true.

If you’re having trouble getting rid of things, Kondo has a method and it works. Start with clothing, shoes, books, then gradually work up to personal items, letters, papers, and finally mementos and photographs. I grew up thinking photographs were sacred. Back then we had little canisters in our cameras. We’d take photos then remove the canister and drive to the local camera store and put the case in an envelope for drop off. We’d wait an entire week for our photos to be developed and it wasn’t until we picked them back up and opened the envelope that we knew if they turned out or not. Not all of them turned out, of course, but we usually kept them anyway because they were expensive and we paid to see them. Most of us have photos like that stuck in a box. What good are they doing there? It’s time to get in those boxes. Don’t wait until old age seeps in and your eyes are as blurry as the photos. Get them out now and toss the ones where everyone has their eyes shut and keep the others. Not every photo is necessary to tell the story of your memory. It’s the memory you want to cherish, not the photographs.

As for papers and paperwork, Kondo advocates eliminating almost all it—the stuff jammed into file folders that you NEVER look at or need. Warranties, instructions for how to use your DVR, letters from way back in grade school. You don’t need all that stuff and unless you live to be 200, you’re probably not going to have time to pour through all those old letters. I’ve got plans for when I’m old and it doesn’t include sitting in rocker staring at Christmas cards from 1992.

The measure of anything, when you’re asking yourself, “should I keep this or toss it?” is this…DOES IT SPARK JOY?

“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.” –Kondo, page 42

I’m not good at math, but this is an equation I can understand. If you love it=keep it. If you don’t=give it away, get rid of it. Don’t turn it into another process. Just do it. That shirt or book or stack of unused stationary will be happier with someone who uses it and enjoys it. FYI, you don’t need 20 packs of Post-it notes. SHARE.

The other point Kondo makes that I LOVE and has helped transform my living space more than any other, is folding and storing everything vertically. Rather than placing clothes in a drawer one on top of the other like a display at the mall, place everything side by side vertically so it lines up horizontally across your drawer. Then when you open the drawer you can view everything at once. It saves space and your clothes look better when folded into a rectangle. It’s amazing!

When everything has a space in your home, you feel like you belong too. When you’re surrounded ONLY by what you love, it’s as if the universe is speaking to you, reflecting back what you value and your life comes into true focus. It’s a great feeling. Walking into a room, seeing what you love organized; it does something for your brain. I’m pretty sure it’s the same effect as eating a box full of expensive chocolates. It feels delicious. Your stuff—the things you love—look better too. And you’re able to focus on what’s actually important, not stuff, but people and relationships, your goals and pursuits. You can go for that walk or get on your treadmill (when the clothes are taken off). The more stuff you have, the more time you spend managing it.

Yes, it’s hard to let things go, but what you get in exchange is a richer fuller existence. In 90 days we’ll be packing up and leaving Sweden. I’ll be going back to the US a lot lighter—my household goods will be lean and mean. And with less to pack there will be less to unpack. I’ll have more time to enjoy the people I meet and my new neighborhood.

So thank you mice and thank you frustration and thank you back-breaking pain after hours and hours of cleaning, because you helped me reevaluate my stuff, my life and gave me greater focus for the coming year. Tidying really is magic!


(Featured artwork from Waffle Love in Provo, Utah.)

8 Comments on “Of Mice and Life

  1. I love that 6-yer old reflection. Already, she understand that alleviating stress is a big deal. I never understand why women (who cry more than men) get more headaches.

  2. Thank you for the post Lana!! I will read the book in Japanse! I found the You Tube video where Kondo speaks and the last 4 min it’s something that you said! I get tired of cleaning and cleaning which is a never ending job, but now I will connect with my life and think about what makes me happy leaving the past behind!!
    Here is the link for the video.

    • Thank you Aisa! Yes, you get it. Cleaning is more than organizing, it’s letting go of the past and embracing the present. It clears the way for what we really want to come into focus. I’m going to watch this link!

  3. I love this Lana! Geoff gave me that book for Xmas and I thought it was a joke, because after all these back-to-back moves I thought we were fully cleared out… but I managed to find about 15 bags worth of things that did not spark joy :). Lovely. I’m still waiting for the mental clarity part, but I think that is me, not the clutter! xx Allison

    • I was skeptical too at first when my friend recommended the book…I thought why should I buy a book to help me get rid of books/stuff. Kind of ironic. But it’s so much more than decluttering. The book teaches you how to clear space so you can live in the present. It’s so incredibly helpful. And moving is the best motivation for cleaning out, as you know.:) xx

  4. Lana, I enjoyed this post. I am finally getting to clean out a storage unit I got six years ago. I pay every month for stuff to be stored in a 5 X 15 ft. unit. I now realize I don’t need 90% of the furniture, books, clothes, towels, etc etc. So I am forcing myself every day to give away most ( and throw out rest). ( But I am saving all the photo albums !! ) It does make me feel so much better. And it will save me $80. a month.. I am a product of all Catholic schools, and I remember the nuns used to tell us, ” Cleanliness is next to Godliness”…Now for my closets…Claire D.

    • Way to go Claire! In the last two weeks I’ve taken 1,000 lbs to the dump and Goodwill. I got rid of 200 books and half of my shoes and wardrobe. I love living simply. And it saves money. Look what eliminating the storage unit will save you in a year! More time for travel. Maybe you can come see me in sunny St. George, Utah when it’s cold up in Boston. I’ll be living next to Zion’s and other national parks!

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