My daughter recently finished college in another state and moved back home for the start of her graduate studies. Although I was extremely excited at the prospect of having her close by for the next two years, I was a little less enthusiastic as I surveyed the vanload of things accompanying her back home. As we emptied her possessions out of the van, the open area in our garage quickly disappeared. Soon, we were parking our cars out in the driveway to create more space. Thankfully, in order to set up her room more to her liking and find space for her “adult” things, my daughter has started to sort through the endless mementos we have saved and stored since childhood. Taking this trip down memory lane has left me not only with a renewed amazement at how quickly time flies, but also with a better appreciation for the need to more routinely sort through the extra “stuff” in our lives.
As we started to pull bin after bin from my daughter’s closet, we laughed at the array of items that we had kept for so long. We unearthed piano recital trophies and a Girl Scout vest covered with activity patches. We even found a baby pacifier in an envelope addressed, but never mailed to her baby cousin, one of our many efforts to make a difficult childhood transition easier: in this case, by convincing her to finally give up that pacifier because a baby cousin “needed it more.” We quickly realized that not every item could be saved and my daughter started to choose a few things from her younger years that carried the highest sentimental value – and no, the pacifier was not one of them. She filled a couple of bins with these most prized items and opened up space in her closet for the things she needs now.
This process helped me gain a new appreciation for how simple items can serve as reminders of our greatest memories and relationships, and the need to prioritize these amidst that everyday clutter. One of the items my daughter found in her sorting process was a small notebook of collected wishes for her life, written by family members and my friends during her baby shower. For me, this little notebook held more treasure than all of the other items combined. In it, we found a handwritten message from my mom, who passed away only a year after my daughter was born. Reading the hopeful words my mom penned for my daughter meant the world to me: her wishes included that my daughter be blessed with the best qualities of her parents, as well as find the type of love that leads to a happy and fulfilling life. My mom might not be a part of my conscious thoughts on a daily basis, but finding her heartfelt aspirations in that little notebook brought all of her importance and influence right back to the surface for me. Had we not sorted through the clutter, I might not have happened upon this little treasure.
It is not only material possessions that accumulate and impede our ability to focus on the most positive or important things. Our brains can become “crowded” with worries and troubling news. Particularly in the mornings, my mind can be full to bursting with thoughts. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them involve apprehension and negativity. It reminds me of the crowded bins in my daughter’s closet: concerns about whether my son will have a cavity at his dentist appointment, fears about whether our aging air conditioning will get us through the summer, and uneasiness about the state of current events in our world compete for space in my crowded mind. To make matters worse, I contemplate potential problem after problem while lying there unable to do anything about any of them.
Inspired to try and “clear out some space” in my mind as well as my physical surroundings, I decided to work on recognizing that even the most capable person cannot cope with something that “might possibly happen in the future”, as it was making me more anxious to let these thoughts go unsorted. After clearing some of this negative speculation from my mind, I have room to focus on what truly matters, rather than worries I cannot control. I resolved to devote this newfound space at the start of my day to reading an uplifting story from www.goodnewsnetwork.org. It is only by setting aside some of my unnecessary preoccupations that I can have room for a headline such as “19 Year Old French Superstar Donates Every Penny of World Cup Earnings to Charity”.
Our minds, just like my daughter’s closet, have limited capacities. By being aware of the need to clear space, we can make room for some of the more inspirational thoughts that help us focus on what is most important. Doing so allows us to be more intentional and present, as we move through our daily lives, cutting out the clutter.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 as an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.
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