Dilemmas in Downsizing #2

October 25, 2022

The love of variety is one of my challenges when I think about downsizing/decluttering.

I love decorating for the seasons, and the house never looks the same, one season after another. Not only is that because I have so much stuff, but because I enjoy rearranging and using what I have in new ways. I’m not very good with my hands–don’t sew, don’t do crafts, but I know I have a good eye and know how to put things together. And oh, how fun it is to discover something tucked away in a cupboard that is just the perfect touch on a tabletop or shelf.

My mother once commented on a neighbor, a dear friend of hers, who in all the years they knew each other never changed the centerpiece on their kitchen table. A wooden bowl of artificial fruit, if I recall. She couldn’t imagine living that way. At least I know where my comfort and desire for change comes from, but as I declutter, little by little, I wonder if there will be a time when I won’t feel the urge to change the dining room centerpiece or the living room coffee table? As I continue this process of simplifying what is tucked in cupboards and closets, will I simplify my interest in and need for variety?

Here are some positive signs:

One day last week when I sat with a client in the snug, I noticed cobwebs floating under a bookshelf. Ugh! It was time to do a more thorough cleaning, and as I did that, I gathered a few small pieces of silver sitting on top of piles of books. Just sweet little accessories collected over the years with no real purpose, but adding a touch of shine to the shelf. Each one needed to be polished, which I started doing, and then I asked myself, “How would it feel to add these to our garage sale pile? Will I miss them if I no longer own them?”

Much to my surprise, I was ready to release them. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but one thing leads to another. By the way, I did keep two pieces I particularly love–a small English chocolate or tea pot from a hotel and a creamer.

As I continued cleaning, I pulled a few books off the shelves and added them to the Little Free Library basket, and I also made another decision. Decades ago when I worked in an independent bookstore, I bought books signed by every author who visited the store, usually for a book signing event. Many of those books I have never read, and as I stood in front of the living room bookcase, I realized I probably never will read them. Obviously, I will confer with my husband about this, but I envision clearing much more space soon.

Bruce and I have been antique collectors all our married life. Going to antique shows and shops has been our hobby, a form of entertainment, and although that activity has decreased in recent years, it has not disappeared. This past weekend, however, we decided not to go to an annual fall show; one we have always enjoyed and where we have often found treasures. Making that decision wasn’t difficult. Not a sacrifice. We quite simply didn’t feel a pull to go. I recognize that doesn’t mean our interest in antiquing has retired, but it is more moderate. That feels like a good thing.

Decluttering is a process. Unless you have a team of people who swoop in, take over, and do it all, once and for all, decluttering can not be done in one big now or never moment. Decluttering is a one drawer at a time process. One closet at a time. Even one shelf at a time. And as a process, it is possible to integrate it into my daily life–to organize what is scattered and to choose what still gives joy and what just feels like stuff, and to clear space as I clean.

Stay tuned, for I have a feeling there will be more Dilemmas in Downsizing to share.

An Invitation

What are you learning in this process? I would love to know.

Breaking the Sabbath to Keep It Holy?

September 27, 2022

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8

Sunday afternoon I cleaned the kitchen. All afternoon.

I emptied the refrigerator, throwing out what was no longer edible, and scrubbed the inside. I rearranged some of the cupboards, moving what is used most frequently onto the lower shelves and what is used less frequently onto higher shelves. I finally tackled the space under the kitchen sink where I keep cleaning supplies –a task that had been on my list for a long time. I sanitized the garbage can, scoured the microwave, re-organized the pots and their covers in the oven drawer. I moved methodically from one area to another, shining and cleansing and tidying and finished by washing the floor cloth first and then the floor.

I enjoyed every minute of the process.

In fact, when I stood in the dining room looking into my small kitchen, I felt refreshed.

This feeling of refreshment felt like my version of a “Sabbath exhale.”

Without the Sabbath exhale, the life-giving inhale is impossible.”

Sabbath, Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight In Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller

Sunday Routine

My Sabbath started more traditionally the night before–taking a shower, washing my hair, deciding what to wear to church the following morning, and getting a good night’s sleep. We had missed church the previous Sunday when we were staying with friends in their northern Minnesota lake home and that was its own kind of Sabbath, but I was eager to return to the Sunday morning ritual.

How good it was to sit in the sanctuary before the service started–to take a deep breath and release the busyness of the previous week. How good it was to close my eyes, to pause, to remind myself to be there, only there, to listen to the music and prepare myself for the gifts of that time. How good it was to be in community, to witness the baptism of a beloved baby and to receive the bread and the wine. I sent blessings to each person who came to the table.

How good it was to greet one another and to rejoice in this gathering, both during worship and during the education hour.

Sabbath time, and I felt refreshed.

Our tradition for many years, beginning when our children were young, was to go out for lunch after church. More than giving me a break from fixing a meal, although that was greatly appreciated, Sunday lunch in a casual restaurant was a time to relax with one another. To check-in. To remind ourselves of who we were as a family. To pause before moving forward into what was sure to be another busy week often of conflicting and complicated schedules and responsibilities. My husband and I have continued the tradition throughout our empty nest years. Now, I confess, we take the NYT with us, but it is a time of ease, an in-between time.

This past Sunday our grandson Peter joined us. He had been staying with us for a few days while his parents were out of town. He is a good conversationalist and oh how good it was to have him all to ourselves.

Sabbath time, and I felt refreshed.

Paying Attention

Once home I continued my Sabbath–by cleaning the kitchen. Yes, by cleaning the kitchen. Doing that felt like a kind of rest because I didn’t approach it as drudgery or something that needed to be done or something to cross off my too long and too dictatorial TO DO list. No, one of my spiritual practices is hometending, and cleaning the kitchen that afternoon was a Sacred Yes. I entered the time with joy and gratitude for the privilege of living in a lovely home, for the delight of sharing my life with my husband of 51 years and in remembrance of all those who have crossed our threshold and in hopes and expectation of future gatherings.

Sabbath time, and I felt refreshed.

Here’s a warning–mainly to myself. How easy it would have been for the pleasure to have turned into obsession. To clean out all the cupboards and drawers. To clean the inside of the oven, and yes, it needs it. To polish all the copper pots hanging in the window. And then to push myself to continue into a cleaning frenzy of the first floor.

The refreshment could easily have become exhaustion. And that would not have been Sabbath rest.

Dinner was easy–only leftovers. I spent the rest of the day reading in the snug.

The day had been “a piece of time that opens space for God.” (Dorothy C. Bass)

I realize my Sabbath rest may not have been a literal or traditional way of keeping and remembering the Sabbath, and many Sundays I attempt to be more intentional about resting, but this past Sunday I paid attention to my own rhythm, and I felt refreshed.

An Invitation

What does Sabbath rest look like for you? I would love to know.

NOTE:

Here are three resources about the Sabbath from my library:

  • Sabbath by Dan Allender (2009)
  • Sabbath Keeping, Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest by Lynne M. Baab (2005)
  • “Keeping Sabbath” by Dorothy C. Bass in Practicing Our Faith, A Way of Life for a Searching People, Dorothy C. Bass (editor) (1997)
  • The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel (1951)
  • A Sabbath Life, One Woman’s Search for Wholeness by Kathleen Hirsch (2001)
  • Sabbath, Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller (1999)
  • The Sabbath World, Glimpses of a Different Order of Time by Judith Shulevitz (2011)

Cleaning as Life Review

June 7, 2022

Folder by folder. Page by page.

What was once overflowing is now orderly and neat.

I even have empty drawers and shelves in the garret.

Such a good feeling.

Cleaning and home tending is one of my spiritual practices, and clearing the space is often the first step (or is it the last step?) when I move into the next stage of a project or prepare to start something new. That was true this time, for I have been in the process of discernment about ongoing work on my memoir. But this time the process of cleaning and sorting and discarding and letting go has also been a process of life review.

Each folder contained plans for a class I taught, a retreat I led, a talk I presented or a collection of ideas for an article to write or one already written.

One folder bulged with all the plans and materials for spirituality groups I led years ago at a center for those touched by cancer. I felt myself doing a bit of time-traveling, remembering the openness and vulnerability in those groups. I called one of those sessions “When Cancer Rearranges Your Furniture,” and brought in pieces of dollhouse furniture, which led to deep sharing about all the ways the participants experienced change in their everyday lives. In another session, I used Christina Baldwin’s book The Seven Whispers, Listening to the Voice of Spirit (2002) to discuss the topic “ask for what you need, offer what you can.” Such a privilege it was to sit with people willing to explore their spirituality during difficult times. Later I was diagnosed with cancer myself and needed to probe my own spiritual grounding for strength and comfort.

Over the years I have considered writing a compilation of those ideas and exercises, and maybe now is the time. I keep that folder.

I also keep folders of materials about this stage of life, including the folder labeled “Growing Older with Grace, Spiritual Practices for the Second Half of Life,” a retreat I co-led in 2015; one of the first programs I did for my church. That event opened the door to ongoing ministry to older adults, a focus for me in recent years. As I toss duplicate copies and handwritten notes and scraps of paper, I remember individual interactions and responses to topics like “gratitude,” and “letting go,” and “entering the new year.”

The process continued, and I filled the recycling bin with what no longer feels relevant or no longer holds my interest or quite simply, feels done. Been there, done that.

I simplified physical space, a task many of us at this stage of our lives feel compelled to do, but I honored myself. “Nancy, you have done good work.” As I opened each folder I retraced paths of what have been important to me and ways I have used my gifts. I delighted in my own creativity and my teaching and organizational skills

And that is a good thing.

I am not done teaching or leading groups, but this clearing the space process, which is ongoing, opens me to what is possible and life-enhancing in my life. Where do I need and want to spend my energy at this stage of my life? And that is the key question for me.

The garret feels fresh and clean. And open.

An Invitation

How is the process of downsizing or simplifying the contents of your home, also a process of life review for you? I would love to know.