Making Space

Well, I did it again. Instead of working on my carefully calibrated agent querying goals for the novels, I spent the day decluttering.

Again.

This time I wasn’t in the gross basement. This time it was in the apartment. Remember, I used to have a serious moth problem in the apartment, a problem which arose after a friend gave me, just prior to the birth of my first baby, a pretty (huge) straw basket which contained baby clothes from when her son (who by then was ten or eleven) was little. I know she didn’t mean to transmit a lifetime worth of trouble to me that day, but there we have it. The basket, was infested with moths, which I did not understand at the time. I thought that there was just a little dirt and maybe a few little bugs in the bottom layer of baby clothes. I washed everything, vacuumed the basket. The basket was so pretty that I put some of my favorite handknit sweaters in it.

And boom. Moths took over my life.

By drastically reducing the amount of clothes in my closet and storage, and having worn (and washed) everything at least once in the last year, I felt like I had finally gotten the upper hand in this battle. I hadn’t seen a live moth in months.

I wish I could put my finger on what made me open the drawer in which I keep my extra mattress protector and other little textile bips and bops (baby swaddles, pillowcases for uniquely sized pillows we don’t have anymore, stuff like that.) I wasn’t looking for anything. I guess maybe it was a mistake: I wanted to put something away and I opened the wrong drawer.

In any case, I opened the drawer, and I got the silly idea to pick up one of the swaddles to admire it, awash in the memory of my tiny baby wrapped up like a baby burrito. That’s when I felt the telltale little sandiness on my fingertips. I let out a primal scream as I tore through the drawer looking at everything. There were no moths, but there was plenty of damage, and enough larvae to tell me I could have been facing another crisis shortly.

I got out a garbage bag and started throwing things in it. I opened the next drawer, where I keep the grown-up sheets and pillowcases blankets and beach towels. I took everything to the bathroom and started a washing machine.

Once you get started…

Granted, after my trip to the dump on Monday, I was fresh off of a decluttering high. I was remembering how good it felt to have all that empty space, not just in my basement, but in my heart. I became ruthless again. I started throwing.

I had one box for recyclable things and lots of garbage bags. One thing I knew for sure was that, even though I would love to donate rather ditch, I did not want to do to anyone what my friend did to me: I would not be a mothgiver.

Just in the bedroom I filled three garbage bags of ditchable, unused but potentially mothridden items. In the process, I also recycled literally hundreds of pages of drawings and paintings that my scalawags had done during the stay-at-home order last year, that had been in a box gathering dust. The dust in that box, in my mind, potentially carried moth eggs and I just couldn’t take the risk of keeping these things around.

Over the last months, my room, specifically, the top of my dresser, had become the go-to storage place for everything and anything we didn’t know what to do with. Paint rollers, electric cables, knitting supplies, reference books, extra blankets, extra batteries, little boy school crafts. I hadn’t seen the top of it since at least Christmas.

There is a very strange phenomenon that happens when you start decluttering, a phenomenon my favorite decluttering guru, Dana K. White calls “Decluttering Momentum”. It happens when you start seeing progress. It’s like a tipping point in our heart, when we become ruthless and willing to make the hard decisions to finally part with the possessions we’ve been clinging to for whatever reason. When the momentum starts, you start feeling an inexplicable joy at filling garbage bags and recycling bins.

The space that is being created is so precious, and feels so valuable, that you want to make more of it. So you declutter some more.

Not only could I see the top of the dresser: now I could actually display the little ceramic handprint my then two year-old had made for me. I had a clear bin to store my current knitting project in. I rediscovered the beautiful quilted bag my sister had sewn in which I used to store all my knitting needles and accessories. With great joy, I reorganized all my knitting needles and accessories and gave the bag a permanent home.

Just to be geeky for a second for the knitters out there: you do know what is like to go for a set of circular needles and to end up with a nest of circulars because there is no good way to store them? Well, I actually took every single set of circular needles and put each one in an individual mini-sized Ikea zip-top bag and labeled the bag with the needle size. I am literally a genius. Carry on.

I vacuumed the drawers out, put fresh moth balls in them, and then put my clean blankets and sheets back. There was space for everything! Nothing was shoved in. I got out some bigger plastic Ikea zip-top bags, and put the washed, undamaged swaddles in them. I know I won’t use them often, but I don’t want to ditch them either. Now they are clean and safe from moths.

When you can’t stop

This had already taken hours. Hours. Hours. The moth problem has already made me lose days of my life. What were a few hours more, right?

Now that I was feeling ruthless, I moved into the kitchen, where I started decluttering half-used birthday candles, stained and disgusting kitchen hand towels, cooking oils that had expired long before either one of my children was born.

Then the bathroom: half-used products I had received as gifts that I just can’t finish (Menopause has made it so that I can’t handle perfumed products–they give me rashes.) The conditioner bottles that were empty but had been being saved for little boys to play with in the bath. I emptied them all and recycled them. Expired medicines that I didn’t even remember ever acquiring. (Pharmacies in France take those back, so I made a bag for the pharmacy.)

Oh my goodness, I couldn’t stop.

Consider it a gift

My mother is an avid crafter. Sometimes, she’ll go on a crafting bender and not come up for air for weeks. I have this gene, too. Many years ago, when I was knitting like my life depended on it, my mother said, “Consider this wave of creativity a gift. Enjoy it, because it isn’t likely to last.”

She was right, of course. I remembered this Mommyism as I was decluttering. This wave of decluttering momentum was a gift. I had the time: I can catch up to my querying goals for the month. For whatever reason, I needed to do this decluttering and I needed to do it now.

I knew what my impetus was: it was the moths. But once I had dealt with everything I could do: throwing, vacuuming, mothballing, washing, drying, protecting…the momentum had already taken hold.

What is your impetus? Let it be your inspiration to get started! The momentum that builds is so satisfying, and the empty space that results is so soul-feeding. Where your treasure is, your heart will be too. Don’t let your heart be found in drawerfuls of moth-ridden mattress covers.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

3 thoughts on “Making Space

    1. I get all excited when friends tell me they are moving, because I secretly hope one of them will take me up on my sincere offers to help them declutter. I have only had one friend ever take me up on it…that was ten years ago and she still tells people about it! Seriously—decluttering is a team sport!

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