We Are Not Retreating

If you’ve been following my random posting then you know I’ve been on a tidying rampage, pretty much cleaning out and giving away and hauling stuff to the dump in massive proportions. After living in Sweden for three years I’ve changed. I’m addicted to  s p a c e . I love clean, sparse, unadorned environments. Yes Swedes, you’ve changed me. You’ve gotten into my heart and soul and I’m all the better for it. I LOVE uncluttered rooms that are tidy and don’t have piles of paper that beacon to be sorted. Seeing things that “need done” make me feel like I can’t relax because my tasks are never finished. It’s a drag.

I’ve been reading and following the advice of Marie Kondo in her book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” As of now, I’ve cleaned out all the visible areas of my home and this week I tackled the storage room. Kondo recommends saving personal items to go through last because it’s harder to dispose of these. Tossing out an ugly sweater from Aunt Mae is one thing; disposing of a poem you wrote in sixth grade is another.

But I approached my task with confidence. I’d already given away over 200 books and a third of my wardrobe. I knew what “sparked joy,” and this was my final mission.

Upon entering the storage room, the first thing I put in the-give-away-pile was a 220-voltage heater, (we can’t even use that voltage in America). Next, I said bon-voyage to two humidifiers, a broken remote control car, and a wad of cords as big and wide as a basketball—amazing how those things replicate. I was just getting started when suddenly I came upon three plastic filing containers. I hadn’t opened any of them in the last three years. They were like time capsules. Truth be told, if I weren’t on a cleaning binge, they would have moved with us and spent another decade in hyper-sleep.

Luckily for me, I was confronting my clutter and my past. I’d taken Kondo’s words to heart, “keep only what sparks joy.” This was the moment of truth. I pulled open the lid of a box and gazed upon rows of crisp red file folders. Each was neatly labeled with plastic tabs running on a diagonal so that everything could be seen at once, (imagine the time that took me!).

I rifled through the folders. There were our 2004 tax returns, a file labeled “Quotes” with pages ripped out of the Reader’s Digest tucked inside with other tidbits. A file crammed with an inch wide ream of computer paper–I’d printed out email communications I’d received from friends thinking in those early days of the Internet, emails would disappear. Nothing disappears on the Internet, unless your name is Clinton. There were Christmas cards and scribble drawings from my kids, thank you notes and folder after folder of “book ideas,” novels I was planning to write…someday. I found a warranty for an old Nordic Track we’d long since given away and instructions for how to use my sewing machine—in Española.

I went through all three file containers and here’s what I learned…

If you want to do something, do it now. If you’re not going to do it now, then you probably don’t want to do it, so move on.

Use your good ideas today! Don’t file them away. Don’t store information that you’ve experienced either, because the moment to use that information is in the moment. You’re not going to go back and reread lecture notes or seminar pamphlets or brochures. You already took what you needed from your experience so there’s no need to file it away.

The reason we file is because it feels good. Oh it feels gooooood to print labels and pretend that life is organized and everything fits in a row. If we put our ideas, memories, and sentiments in a box it feels like we’ll keep them forever and that nothing can be lost. It also takes the pressure off doing, because we can do it later. We don’t need to write our book today, we can start tomorrow; today we just have to make the file. That will make it happen, won’t it?

Seven years ago I was in a master’s program in California. I was getting my degree in secondary education. I was going to be an English teacher. I was going to be engaged with my students. I was going to be one of those teachers who spend extra time after class and on weekends helping her pupils succeed. But life happened. Cooper got posted to Pakistan, I found out I was pregnant and we moved to Pennsylvania. My master’s program documents, (all of my lecture notes and hours of observation) were put into a filing box.

I was going to get right back to it, but settling in and caring for a new baby took time. A year later we moved again, to Virginia. Less than a year after that we moved back to California, to Irvine. Two years after that we moved to Sweden. And now, here I was, staring at my box. My BIG life plan…my master’s program…the person I was going to be when I grew up.

I’d kept it all tucked neatly away supposing I’d get back to it, but while I wanted to be a teacher, my soul needed to grow in other ways. The path I ultimately chose gave me an education, a much deeper and more profound understanding of life, only it didn’t come with a degree. And I’m okay with that; I’m okay with not finishing what I started, because my endeavor taught me. Holding onto the box was symbolic of holding onto an idea of what “should” have been.

I gave my file box a moment of silence. I thanked my younger self for her enthusiasm, ambition and hard work. She did what she needed to do and when life changed, she changed with it, embracing a whole new path. Thank you younger self. And then I let it go, along with lots of other things I started and never finished. Wow. And I thought using a label maker to organize was the fun part, this was sooooo much better.

Whatever you’re storing, hear me when I say this, it’s your brains really tricky way of saying, I’m scared of losing something, I’m scared of moving on. Your soul knows it’s time to make a shift, but your ego needs a place to keep the status quo. And believe me, nothing says status quo like tax returns from 2004.

People let’s have compassion, thank ourselves and move on.

“We are not retreating—we are advancing in a different direction.” –Douglas MacArthur

I reduced my three heavy file boxes into one and it’s only partially filled. I have my important documents, a few treasured memories that “spark joy,” and my family history, pedigree charts and genealogy records. Everything inside has a purpose and will be looked at with some regularity.

If something is important to you, don’t keep it in your storage unit or basement, display it or keep it where you can have access. The nature of a filing system is to tuck things away for safe keeping, but out of sight is out of mind. Keep what you love close to your heart, not your attic.

My husband is in our living room making a lovely fire. I’m about to go sit by him and enjoy my cup of tea. Thanks to our basement clean out, he’s got a whole box full of papers to help him ignite the logs. I guess keeping those file folders did come in handy after all.

7 Comments on “We Are Not Retreating

  1. This is BRILLIANT, Lana. Thank you for writing it. I look forward to revisiting this post in the months to come as we do our own sorting as well..

  2. UCI, my backyard. I might have met you in the neighborhood. How funny. It takes you moving to Sweden to find a new friend. I too have notes from my teaching credential classes. In my case, I’m done so I should throw them out, but you–do you think you’ll never go back to getting that secondary ed credential? At some point, when they kids are well into school, you may need a new avocation. Mine arrived in my 50’s!

    I may have to read that book….

    • True Jacqui. But now I’ve moved on and what I really want to do is focus on my art. Maybe teaching will come back to me, but in a different form. It’s good to stay open.

  3. I just can’t wait until you publish a book! I’m already standing in line to purchase it! You already inspired me to minimalize and this is good inspiration to continue on the path. Another move is coming and I haven’t reached those basement boxes yet. 🙂

    • Thank you my dear friend!! You inspire me with your creativity, mothering and friendship!! Can’t wait to hear where your adventure takes you next. Xoxo

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