As a psychotherapist I spend a lot of time asking my clients to imagine what their lives would be like if they made the changes they want to make. I ask them to imagine themselves living this new and improved version of the life they have. I’ve spent much time myself imagining the kind of life I would like to live in the future; where I would go, what kind of boat it would be on, what it will be like swimming in warm water and living where the sun shines. Being warm.
None of this prepared me for reading the question in Peter Walsh’s book It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff, the book I’ve chosen as my guide for the Great Purging. He asks people to imagine their ‘ideal lives’. When I imagine my ideal life, the dreams always seem to include leaving my home and going somewhere else. And that probably tells you something about me. But that’s not what Peter is after. Peter wants people to imagine the ideal way of LIVING in their Current Home! WHAT THE F..? I never once considered that question in terms of HOW I am living in the home I currently own. It was a jaw-dropping moment when that hit me, I assure you. I had to have a long bath in order to recuperate.
No one has ever accused me of being organized. Creative, yes. Free-thinking, yes. Attention deficit disordered, yes. Organized? Definitely not. It isn’t that I don’t try. I have invented more systems for getting our stuff organized than I can count. But they never seem to last. And now, thanks to brilliant Peter, I know why. It’s because I’ve always been focused on “the stuff”, as he says. This man, in one simple paradigm-shifting part of his book, (the Introduction, for those of you who are reading along) completely changed the way I think about clearing out all the stuff that clutters up our lives.
He wants me to imagine things like being able to find my keys, having decent work flow in the kitchen, and being able to sit down to a meal at a table without clearing it off first. He wants me to imagine flat surfaces that exist for their own sakes, a closet where clothes can breathe and I can find things I like and that fit me. He wants me to imagine living in my house free of the stress that comes from having to constantly negotiate the amount of clutter just laying around all the time, with no real place of belonging. It isn’t that I haven’t thought about and wanted those things. It’s just that I have not actually imagined what it would feel like, or how it would ‘look’ if life flowed that way at my house.
Peter wants me to imagine what it would be like if I had been able to move into this house with intention, being thoughtful about where things go and how things are done and then keeping those systems in place. This is the opposite of our move-in experience.
Eleven years ago we moved into this house on a holiday weekend. The house was a ‘fixer’. The only updates it had were done by the previous home-owner who apparently had no idea what the term ‘square corner’ meant. And it was filthy. I mean it. When my kids took showers the walls in the bathroom leaked nicotine from all the years of the previous owners’ smoking. It was just disgusting. It looked like the bathroom was haunted. Every wall in the house needed to be sanded, sealed, and repainted, including ceilings. We had to demolish the family room (one of those home-owner specials) and have it rebuilt. We had the master bathroom enlarged and the kitchen updated. I’m pretty sure our kids hated us for at least the first 6 months as we all slept together on the floor of what would be the family room. It was the only room I could get reasonably clean.
During the remodeling years, (yes, plural) our things got shifted from one room to another. We lived in the house one way, and then lived in it another way, until the remodeling was finished. By that time we had collected more stuff and still had no system for living in the house. Kids grew up, went to college, came home, left again. These are the times when systems should be able to flex and change to accommodate new patterns of living. But if you don’t have anything solid to begin with, it’s pretty hard to get it to be flexible without the whole system falling apart. My attempts at organization were futile. Now I see that part of the problem is that I was always focused on “the stuff” and where to put it in the tiny closets. According to Peter, this will not cut the mustard.