In 1999 my dad suffered his second heart attack followed by his second quadruple bypass. After a few months of recuperation at our house, he moved back to our childhood home, which once sheltered eleven people including me, my six siblings, my parents and my grandparents.
Dad quickly discovered the house was just too much for him to handle and decided it was time to move to a more manageable abode – a condo. So, he began the process of emptying our home of almost forty years of stuff. While his intentions were good, Dad’s always been sort of bulldozer. His idea is to get things done as fast as possible, excavating with heavy machinery – “To hell with a plan”
Any quality excavation job should start with a good plan. Dad started out with a strategy alright, to sift through everything and create piles for my siblings and me. But we soon discovered he had chosen entirely the wrong vehicle. He was ready and raring to put the pedal to the metal and navigate the long road ahead with a nice, reliable … dump truck.
Even with us helping, Dad soon felt burdened by the immenseness of it all. With no one in charge of the process, he burned out quickly. He started pushing us all out of the door and doing a lot of the cleaning out himself when no one else was around. He said he didn’t have time to make piles or to wait for us to help him. He wanted it done yesterday. And he had no one to guide him, pace him, help him make decisions. So, he dumped.
Unfortunately, along with trash, dozens and dozens of bags and boxes filled with nostalgic mementos went out to the curb. Some of us tried to intervene but in the end, what was left in the house, along with some family heirlooms, was simply a mountain of stuff. Dad, the packrat that he was, had bought numerous items at auctions and estate sales. While these pieces were certainly wonderful, they hadn’t actually belonged to our parents or grandparents, so they meant nothing to any of us. It was the missing photos and other items from our childhood that had been pitched in frantic haste that we really wanted.
Still, we understood that this wasn’t the first time our dad (and mom while she was alive) had tried to organize the remnants of a big family. We had tried to help them before and the process had always died for one reason or another. Because we also knew that Dad was physically unwell and emotionally overwhelmed; to him, the job must have looked like a long-distance trip cross country on a bicycle. There were no hard feelings.
This is how the process happens for a lot of people. We try to organize and reorganize our stuff. We move items around and buy gadgets, containers and shelving units to contain everything. Sometimes, we bag things and throw them in closets or even rent storage units. We do all of this with the intention that we will someday find the time to go through everything little by little.
Instead of reducing the clutter, we only amplify it. We go back to the task only to add more and more items to the piles. Then we hit the point where we can’t handle the project and have to stop thinking about it… until it once again affects our lifestyle. We repeatedly embark on the process of shifting and moving, organizing and reorganizing – each time beginning a sense of urgency and a desperation to see instantaneous change – and ultimately ending with a solemn forfeit that our plan didn’t work. And then the cycle starts all over.
All the while, we’re living with the disruptive chaos, we detect an underlying feeling of uneasiness, as if someone is tailgating, riding our bumper. It causes disagreements in our families, prevents us from living the life we want to live together. We just don’t want to let it get to the point where it’s too late. Before we know it, a dumpster is filled with all that we’ve ignored throughout the years.
At Lighten Up, we have watched as our clients have attempted to go through this process themselves. Their goal was always to see immediate results. We know first-hand that approach can be, and more often is, the very the downfall of such a project. It just doesn’t work that way.
When decluttering, it can make a world of difference to have a professional driving the vehicle. Here at Lighten Up, once we’ve had a sit down and helped the person talk through their concerns, we start the ignition and accelerate slowly as we help redefine their goals. We help them to stay within the speed limit and apply the brakes and steer more carefully when they’re traveling around a sharp curve.
Once we’ve gotten into a rhythm of shifting gears, we gain momentum. The drives we take suddenly encompasses more mileage. We can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize that the destination is near.
This is when our clients begin to feel less encumbered and more excited. It’s when they realize it wasn’t as hard as it seemed, that the ride was worth the stops and starts. They forget the uphill climbs and, instead, delight in the downhill runs.
If this resonates with you, if you’ve attempted to contain your clutter only to walk away from the project, remember this. It can be done! This project is not impossible. You can choose to go it alone… or trust the process to a professional who can chauffeur you around on the trip. Slow and steady wins the race.