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Thursday, November 21, 2013

on having what you have

As the countdown to graduation continues, something has happened to me.

It's called The House Purge of 2013.

I have been wanting to really clean the house for a few years. Okay, if I'm honest probably since Maya was a baby which is about the time when the ratio of stuff to space became officially lopsided.  My maintenance cleaning has consisted of finding corners and closets for the stuff and getting rid of it as soon as it wouldn't make anyone cry (and, if I'm going to be really honest, a few times when it did make people cry.)

I think I really needed to wait for the kids to both be in school before I could take on such a massive house purge - in part because it is intensely time consuming but also because I don't want any input or the undoing of my hard work.

You know how sometimes you have a daunting project like cleaning the basement or the attic or the garage and you kind of have to be in the place where you can't stand it one more damn second and you HAVE to clean it out because you can't find that thing you need that you KNOW is in there?  That is where I am.

It's hard to find reason to spend my time doing anything else aside from throwing things away.  I am getting rid of anything that is remotely burdensome to our household and/or isn't nailed down.  I am producing trash bag after trash bag of unwanted things, things to be donated or recycled, or things to be returned to their owners.  (If you think we have anything of yours this would be the time to let me know.)

And the sad thing is it isn't as though you would walk into my house and exclaim, "Oh, I see you've been cleaning!"  But that is sort of the point.  It is all the behind the scenes junk and clutter, the stuff that burdens my brain and makes it hard for me to relax in my own house, the stuff that makes it hard to find the stuff I want...THAT is the stuff I want out of here.

You know where this is going right? You've heard this story before?

In all this cleaning, I am coming to really understand how less is more, how oppressive too much stuff is, and how crucial it is for me to truly relish, appreciate and celebrate the abundance of what I have rather than seeking new, different, better when I'm trolling around Target.  It is so easy to get caught up in "Wouldn't it be nice to have this or that" and "I can't wait to get new dishes when Sandi finishes school.  And a new TV!  And a new vacuum! And new shoes!  And maybe a matching set of towels! And finally an upgrade to my iPhone which is so outdated!"

Not that a new iPhone wouldn't be nice but I have to be careful about riding the balance of wanting and having.

I heard this idea recently about learning to really have what you have instead of constantly striving for more and that this is a key to general peace, contentment, presence and also about knowing what is enough.  And that striving has a way of becoming the default way of being for so many of us that when we get the "thing" or we arrive at the "moment" we've been waiting for, we don't even enjoy it because we are looking to the next thing or moment that we can't wait for.

I have lived my life like this.  I couldn't wait to finish remodeling our house so we could live somewhere that felt good.  Then I couldn't wait to build an addition because we needed more room to expand our family and certainly more closets.  Lately I find myself awaiting the day we can afford a different house with a better layout because this one doesn't suit us.  And that is just about a house!

I've spent a lifetime like this in my body too.  If I could just lose 20 pounds I would like my body.  Then 20 pounds later, I would be happy if I could just go 5 more and then I will be satisfied.  Striving and punishing for the extra 5 makes me gain 10 and then the cycle of wanting something other than what is remains in play.  Truth be told, until recently, I think I had only experienced a total of about 22, nonconsecutive minutes when I enjoyed my body exactly as it is.

Any moments spent unhappy with what I have and looking to what could be feels like a tragic waste of precious life to me now.

In the past few months I have stopped waiting for the future event to allow myself to feel content and at peace.  That means I am seeking peace even in a long line at the pharmacy instead of waiting until I can get home to do what I really want which is to go for a run which I was often spending counting the minutes until it is over.  I am working hard to stop this crazy making of wishing to be on to the next thing or somewhere other than where I am.

I am looking up at the sky and taking in deep gulps of air and being fed by all these tiny moments that make up my life: the sound of my kids laughing (and, yes, fighting), the blue jay that lands on our fence, the simple joy that comes from sitting by a warm fire even if the laundry isn't folded and the kitchen isn't clean.

Because it is true what they say: life is what is happening right now, always now,  never what is in the future.  Because when you get to that future moment it will always be the present.

Part of what else is happening to me as I clean is that I am finding long ago stored boxes with old pictures of myself.  If you have ever had the humbling opportunity to dig through your photographic past than perhaps you can relate to my overall cringing feeling as I do so.  I am not someone who looks back and sees the "good 'ol days" but rather a heavy body with bad hair and regrettable clothes. It makes me not want to waste one second feeling anything other than fabulous at the mature age of 37, complete with crows feet and a lined face because everything about me, from the inside out, is 100 times better than it was 12-15 years ago.  It isn't as though I had a rose-colored view of my past but pouring through these photographs was like a crash course in gratitude and perspective.

I would not trade one second of this life for any of what is behind me. Even the sucky moments, even the painful ones.  I am so grateful to be me, to have this life and this body.  I am immensely grateful for what I've learned, what I never have to learn again, for what I know to be unshakably true.  In my most uncertain moments, my most insecure depths, I never feel the deep thread of fear and self-isolation I felt for most of my childhood and young adulthood.    My worst days of today are better than many of my best days of yesterday.

Here are some other things I'm grateful for.

Sister hugs.

Homemade bagels:

My family, happily working and creating in the kitchen.
 Spontaneous shoulder snuggles during breakfast.
 The elastic loom bracelet craze that has taken over our house.

 And then there's the fact that we've gone from this:

to this:

Yes, we leave for Portland tomorrow to stay in a hotel (perhaps more exciting for the girls that graduation itself).  We have made it.  This major life undertaking has shaped and formed each of us in different ways.  We are not the same people as when it began and I think we have been changed for the better.

The feelings of relief have started flooding in.  That is in between the coursing adrenaline only a massive house cleaning can give you.

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