Imagine the Life You Want to Live

Preparing to Purge: The staging area.

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.

According to Peter, if you focus on the kind of life you want to lead, getting rid of the stuff in your way makes more sense. So, accordingly, my wedding dress is now hanging in the garage with loads of other ‘stuff’ that is in the way of my living the life I imagine. The dress is in good company with stuff like the old sealskin coat from the 1930’s that I bought for 15$ when I was in highschool, two sets of china that are lovely but that I’ve used maybe twice in 10 years, and funky American pottery planters from the 1940’s that I used to collect and that now collect dust.
But what about the cool old Villeroy and Bosch majolica plate with a gnome on it? I love that thing and it’s so… me! I know it’s not on display right now, Peter, but surely you have a heart? In fact, he does. The gnome collection stays, in part. Only the ones dearest to me. And they will be packed away in the tiny house in the attic.Since we’ve now begun this Great Purging as the first step in our cunning little plan, I now understand that I must strike a balance between the vision I hold for living in our current home, and the one I hold for our future life on the boat, and into our next land based home, wherever that may be. As I go through cupboards, closets, and drawers, holding these visions before me, I ask about each one: Does this help me live the life I want to live in my home now?  Does this item belong in the life I will live in the future? If the answer to both of those questions is no, out it goes. Peter would be so proud.

He's living the life he wants to live.

6 thoughts on “Imagine the Life You Want to Live

  1. Have you considered an Etsy store to sell your excess collections to add to the future funds?

    (I’m in a revise-refine-reevaluate-replace phase. It’s similar to a purge but it has a dual purpose-both reducing and also refining so that what I have really fits what I need and also really *works* -no more putting up with the dented colander or that icky cutting board that’s warped, stuff like that…. We’ve also sort of been inheriting family things due to parental downsizing so we’re clearing out stuff to make room for stuff that means a little more.)

    • I hear you, Sue. Especially about the inheriting stuff.Well, actually about the dented colander, too. So many of the things I am making decisions about came from my mother or my grandmother. It’s hard to let them go, but if they’ve been stuck away in a drawer somewhere for 10 years I’m not really using them, am I? I doubt my kids want to be burdened with the things of three generations. It’s not like we live on an estate in County Cork or something. Thanks for the info on Etsy.com. I am not familiar yet with that website and I will check it out.

  2. Well, not so sure about what your kids will or won’t want….. There’s a big “retro” thing going on right now, after all. Funny, too, I’ve actually been searching out some vintage-y items myself to replace some of the newer stuff-like cast iron, and juice reamers. Sometimes simple is just the best! I’m also finding that I’m wanting things with connections more than just things, too. Things inherited, or handmade by family & friends are taking higher precedence over just “stuff”.
    I’ve really been doing a bit too much “revising” (shopping), but I’m very pleased with my revisions so far….Now I need to clear out the rest of the stuff I don’t want. It does get tiring, all the purging. It’s not just ’60’s houses that have no closets, ’90’s houses don’t either. There’s some stuff I’d just as soon get rid of, but my mother is very sensitive about things she’s given as gifts and gets quite upset if things are returned or exchanged (or “goodwilled”) if she finds out. Leaves me stuck with stuff I don’t want or lying about things if she notices. 🙁

    Anyway, I’m delighted you’re doing this blog and am excited to watch you make your dreams become reality.

  3. Too bad your mom doesn’t understand about things piling up over the years. Post a link to the workshop if you have one, and thanks for reading!

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