Monday, September 6, 2010

The Cleansing

A long time ago, I decided to declutter my house. I was 250 pounds, and all the *stuff* I had was clogging up my space and weighing me down along with the pounds. "I want to be free," I thought, "free of clutter AND of this weight!" So I started going through boxes and bins, shelves and closets, determined to get rid of anything I was not using or going to use anytime soon while I dieted with my trusty Weight Watchers Points books and Points Calculator. I was ready!

The first day I opened a box, I was excited. I had trash bags and donation boxes ready and was planning a yard sale, too. But when I opened that first box, reality set in.

I was not ready to let go.

There were toys my children had when they were babies; how could I get rid of those? Their tiny baby clothes sat packed in tub after tub and when I pulled out the little sleepers and stained onesies I got all emotional, folded them, and put them back. When I lifted the little bathtub and baby seat out of their boxes to sell them, I hesitated. What if I had another baby someday? What if I had grandchildren in 15 years who could use this? And I put it back.

There were kitchen items that I no longer used or needed, like the ugly cups I don't like, mismatched plates, an extra knife set, and old cheap pots and pans. But what if I needed them? What if my kids grew up and moved out and got an apartment, and needed some stuff to get started? I'd wish I had all these boxes of toasters and forks. So I saved them.

There were boxes of clothing... many, many boxes. There were the clothes I wore in 1987 when I graduated from high school, had my first boyfriend, and weighed 140 pounds. Maybe I could fit in these again someday. Yes, the graduation dress had been stained from sitting in an old box in the garage for over a decade but maybe I'd like to wear it someday. The tee shirts were ugly but they reminded me of being a carefree teenager. The clothes from the early 90's made me think of being a new mommy. There were maternity clothes in sizes so small that even though they fit me easily when I was 9 months pregnant they would no longer fit me NOT pregnant... I was far heavier than I'd ever been. There were nursing bras and old clothes that my kids wore. I wanted to donate them all but I couldn't bring myself to do it. What if?

All the stuff got boxed back up and put back where it was. My house stayed cluttered, and after 2 weeks on Weight Watchers I stopped going to meetings and gained more weight, adding the Points books and Points calculator to my cluttered book shelf full of diet books.

It's been about 12 years since then. I have made many attempts to declutter, but really all I ever did was move stuff to the garage, add a shed and move stuff there, shove things further back in the closets, and move everything around so that my main living space didn't really *look* cluttered. But it *felt* cluttered, to me. Every single item I held onto was in my brain. I knew it was still here, and I couldn't let it go.

I tried again a year ago, but the old thoughts kept coming. What if I end up in poverty again? I will wish I had all this stuff to sell so I could pay the bills. I should keep all this stuff and then someday when I am poor again I will be able to sell it all on Ebay and have enough to get by. What if there is a catastrophe and we have no power and can't get to stores? I will be glad to have those 1980's clothes to pile on top of us to keep us warm. What if my kids want this stuff later? I better keep it all.

But last week, something changed. Once again I had the urge to clean out my life. I feel renewed, having escaped obesity and ridding myself of *so much* weight (physically and mentally) that I thought, "I am ready to change my life. I want my space back. I want my home to reflect my mind: peaceful, restful, uncluttered. And so I got to work.

It was a little nostalgic going through my kids' old toys. All the boys are way too old and too cool for army men and race cars and Pokemon stuff anymore. Every item I picked up triggered a memory: buying the special request for my son for Christmas, the look on his face when he got that helicopter for his birthday. I asked him what he wanted to save, he picked out a few things, and that was it. I sorted every bit, threw out a tremendous amount of useless stuff, saved a handful of things I think he would actually like to have when he is an adult and a few special items like his baseball glove, his first (tiny) cub scout hat, and the "cool" necklace he wore every day in 4th grade. I set those few things aside, boxed up the rest, and put it in the car for Goodwill.

I went through clothes, too. All the outfits reminded me of something my boys and I did together: wool socks for camping, water shoes for the beach, little tiny roller blades for skating. But this time, I didn't feel compelled to hang onto it all. I have the memories, *and* I have a life... a rich life building more memories, and I don't need a bunch of *things* for that. All the scratchy old sheets I saved "just in case" went in the donation box. I have nice, soft sheets now. All the old kitchen stuff left too. If my kids need a frying pan when they start out on their own, guess what? I can get one for the at Walmart for $3 or even the Dollar Store has kitchen stuff cheap. All those old clothes of mine? Gone, except for a couple things I am curious to see if I will ever fit into again. I have blankets to keep me warm and I have clothes that fit. Maybe someone can use them for an 80's costume party!

And then, on the shelf, I saw it. The Stuff. You know the kind of stuff, it pulls at your heartstrings for whatever reason. Now, I am not opposed to hanging onto things that mean a lot to you, but this is different.

-a mismatched chess set from when I was a teen, that I learned to play chess on with my parents.
-a framed picture of a drawing of a horse that I had on my wall when I was a kid
-the flowers from the table decorations when I got married the first time

Now, really, what is the point? I had to look for a split second before deciding that this stuff has NO VALUE to me anymore. None! The chess set cost about $2 at Kmart, is cardboard and plastic, is missing pieces and the box is ripped. If I want to play chess, I can use a decent set. In fact my son made me a gorgeous wooden chess board in wood shop; I can get some nice pieces for that and put it on display for playing. The horse picture is not even pretty; it is a cheapo piece of paper stuck in an ugly frame that I liked as a kid but wouldn't hang in my house now. The flowers? Really. They are blue and plastic and over 20 years old. I was hanging onto them "for the kids" because, of course, what young man doesn't want the cheap plastic flowers that sat on the table at his parents' wedding reception? @@ Really. Hey, maybe a daughter might want them to do some kind of memory box with but my boys? No way, they would never care one iota about this stuff. Their father and I are divorced and they have zero interest in this type of memento... and neither do I.

Off this stuff went, along with Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, Stop the Insanity, When Food is Love, and the Weight Watchers Points books. I am done with all the dieting drama. I don't need it anymore. And letting go of all this stuff is not the least bit painful (like it used to be). It is freeing. It is cleansing.

I think you know when you're ready. You have to be ready to let go in order to lose the weight and the clutter and the emotional *stuff* that weighs you down. It takes a lot of work to get there.

I am there. I am ready! It feels amazing.


Winner at a Losing Game said...

Interesting how our mentality changes. Stuff can really possess you and hold you back. Just a symptom of something else in your life. Glad to see you make so much mental progress. Seems that you mental and physical progress have aligned. Awesome. Good for you!

Baby Stepping said...

It is amazing how much our house "stuff" and our body "stuff" are related. I write about it often. What helped me finally get rid of the kids' stuff was that I took pictures of it. That way I can have the memory, but not the clutter. We hang onto the stuff because we are afraid we will forget to remember. :) When my house decluttering is going well, more often than not my body decluttering is also going well.

Anonymous said...

Well, hi. I'm a first-time reader. I just happened upon you--and this is about the fifth post I've read in two day that talked about decluttering.

I read weight loss blogs. Have for about a year. No housekeeping/decluttering there. Till now. :D

Funny thing is--I just decided to start a new housekeeping system (FLYlady) and to finally go thru all of those bins, bags, and boxes and really THROW THINGS OUT this time.

chuckle. God is funny this way. I think I'm on the right track. In many ways, your post recorded my thoghts. Well, except for the actual throwing out part. :) It's time.

Congratulations on the magnificent weight loss--and the progress that has gone along with that.


Ex Yo-Yo Dieter Debbie said...

Funny..I was doing house-cleaning/cleansing today, too!

I like to say to myself (when htrowing something out/donating it/whatever) "I'm making space in my life for what I want".

Good on you for tossing the diet books...that is truly a sign of progress! You're on a good path, Lyn.

Feed Me I'm Cranky said...

Love this!

Lanie Painie said...

Congratulations! You are way ahead of me in that respect as well!

Alan (Pounds Off Playoff) said...

This is one of the best and most useful posts I've seen in a while. I've often wondered if "stuff" management and "self" management went hand in hand. You've added more evidence that they do. Thanks.

Erica Marie said...

Wow, This post actually almost brought tears to my eyes. I am the same way with clutter, & I always have the best of intentions when it comes to "de-cluttering" my home, and of course I always get off course. I really can not wait until I'm at a point emotionally, and maybe even physically where I can let go of the extra "weight" in my life and clean up!

Congrats!!! ( :

Michelle said...

Way to go.. I have a saying if I have not used it in a year then get rid of it.. Way to move forward in your life...

pinkvision said...

A few years ago I got bullied into decluttering, or rather moving my stuff around, and hung on to most of it because of my emotional inability to let go. Last year I took the leap and gave a whole heap away to Oxfam, and the sense of lightness was incredible. However clutter has crept up again, and this week I am facing another purge (interesting huh, must be a cyclic thing sweeping the world!) which I had been dreading but am now in the right emotional place to do something about it.

No doubt there will be tears shed, however the important thing is it will be GONE, and my house will feel spacious and light again.

Great post, and congratulations on your weight loss journey. I've been much inspired reading your posts.

Shane G. said...

Hey this is great. A love the parallel of moving junk out and getting ready to lose weight. Awesome.

Anonymous said...

No weigh-in this week? Or did I miss it?

LightHeartLightBody said...

Congratulations! And so inspiring...

Lyn said...


No weigh in Sunday. Actually I didn't weigh today, either. I feel kind of... unobsessed about it right now, which feels great! Busy decluttering, drinking my Medifast hot cocoa mocha at the moment on a break, but of course I have lots more weight to lose (and will!) Just focused on other things right now :)

Leigh@SAPL said...

Good for you! Cleaning out is very good for the soul.

Desperate Diva said...

It really can be truly liberating when you throw away old things you've clung on to once you accept you no longer need them, and it sounds like you've been well and truly liberated! :-p Hope you're enjoying your clutter free surroundings ^_^

Anonymous said...

Great post. I have, thankfully, gotten over most of my need to add clutter to the house. Mostly because of my hubby and secondly from downsizing from a 4500 sq. ft. house to a 2100 sq. ft. townhouse - force decluttering I call it. I notice that most of my friends 40+ are all looking to declutter. We spend the first 40 years of our lives adding clutter and assigning meaning to objects and the next 40 years trying to get rid of it. Go figure.

You're in good company. Way to get rid of the diet books though - a major accomplishment.

Foodie McBody said...

Another thing you can do with that sentimental but useless stuff is to take a photograph of it. Then write a story as long as you want - a paragraph or 20 pages - about the memories that this item evokes. THEN get rid of it. The memory will last a lot longer, as well as the image of the thing.

Bonnie said...

I've been keeping a personal blog called "This Was My Life". I take pics of things I get rid of and document the memories. It makes it much easier to get rid of stuff.

Miss Maebe said...

Good for you!! :)
It's so healthy to shed the crap we carry around with us for years...both physically and mentally.

Reitmans Fat Girl said...

I am no where near where you are. But I want to one day be "done with the dieting drama".and throw out all the the meantime, I'm de-cluttering while I can, what I can.

I'll be right there with you someday. Just not today. :)

Anonymous said...

so true--you know when you are ready to let go! I've been decluttering for the past year, working really hard at not letting anything pull at my heart strings. You know what? I feel lighter every time I let go of another piece of "clutter". Now I can’t wait to be done with certain parts of our lives—baby toys, out. Clothes too small for my kids-out. Clothes too big for me-out. Toys no longer played with—out. Stained, broken, fixable (but waiting to be fixed for years)—out!

I breathe easier, because there is more room to breathe. I feel happier, because there is less weighing me down.

Good for you that you’ve come to the same conclusions—isn’t it nice to feel free?

Julia said...

What a great blog you have here. I am serious from today about my own weight loss and will be following you closely. You are doing an incredible job :)

carla said...

so true for me as well.
especially in my world of work and my writing.
the husband thinks my decluttering the office is procrastinating :) he does NOT get that Im really decluttering my head in preparation to begin.

Beth said...

Excellent post! Has inspired me to try to de-clutter, too! I especially related to this line (which I'm copying& pasting here):

I have the memories, *and* I have a life... a rich life building more memories, and I don't need a bunch of *things* for that

Beautifully said! I'm going to try to remember that as I sort through all of my stuff this weekend!

Fat Grump said...

I tend to cling to stuff too Lyn, for all the reasons you've mentioned. We didn't have much as children and I suspect that deep down inside I fear going back to days of shortages, so hang on to stuff when I'd be better off clearing out rooms, cupboards, drawers, shed etc!

I am far too sentimental as well, reagarding the kids things, and it can actually be quite a suffocating quality. I keep smothering the minimalist inside me who wants to get out.

It's amazing how we are mentally lifted to tackle other things as well when we successfully make some self-improvements. I want to get to where you are now - either that or I want volunteers to help me sort through my stuff!:)

MB said...

Congrats on getting rid of the junk and clutter.

I need to start working on decluttering my house. I have an entire room full of clothes that are both too big and too small. More than half of it hasn't see the light of day in over a decade. What the hell am I holding onto it for? I'm ready to start cleaning it out before my house looks like something you'd see on hoarders. It's just stuff, right?

blessedmommie said...

Yes, I can really relate to this. I have been decluttering my house for awhile now and it's almost done. What was very emotional and difficult for me before (going through old things, and getting rid of them) is now easy and freeing. And now that I am at a good place in my house, I am starting to work on my pounds (again). It all ties together, doesn't it, even though we've done it in different order. We have to be ready to let go of what we don't need to be free today.

Vee said...

I envy you. I'm not there but I NEED to be there. We are at that point you mentioned when the stuff would be handy to sell if you're in a tight financial spot. We're in that spot, and now I have to go through hundreds of boxes of junk and stuff, whether I'm ready to or not.


I liked Bonnie's comment about doing the decluttering in a blog. Maybe next week I'll start a blog... maybe VeeDeclutters or something similar. That might help.

Vee at

jennifer said...

Now this was inspirational! I struggle with stuff issues. I hope that I manage to do the same thing that you have done.

Congratulations on ALL of your changes!

Steelers6 said...

Very exciting. Glad you were able to do this. It is very hard for me to purge as well. I am working on it! I think it kind of started as my clothes got too big; that got the ball rolling. I had to get rid of that stuff. There is still a wee bit laying around, but I'm getting there.

My Dad has been clearing out since my Mom passed, and it makes me view STUFF a bit differently. I don't want MY kids to be stuck having to sort dumb stuff that *I* should be getting rid of along the way.
OK - I even have an example for you from my own journey - I came upon several pairs of my eyeglasses from the past 12 years or so. Uh, but what am I saving them for, ya know? I'm NOT going to put a new prescrip in them, & they are NOT currently stylish! When/if that style returned, I'll just buy it again. We can't put a price on clutter free lives, exactly, but it is worth it to me to have that drawer space for years to come and have to buy even identical eyeframes in 10, 15, 20 years, kwim? I must process the trade offs and stuff. I also have saved my daughter's eyeglasses from the past 10 years. I guess I thought her's were too cute to get rid of. And they were cute, but SHE isn't going to want them, and then I am burdening my fam w/STUFF. [This was even underscored by my realization that I have a pair of my own tortoise shell eyeglasses from childhood somewhere in my house. And how often have I looked at them? What enjoyment have they brought me? And did I put my daughter's prescrip in them for HER to wear? You know the answers..] So off to Costco they all went where there is a Lion's club donation box to distribute eyewear to the needy. Guess what-it felt great! Clearing my house AND helping others!

I have also dealt with the saving to sell things to make $$ deal. I've discovered that giving the stuff to those who can use it while it is still usable also feels great!

Great job!

MargieK said...

Boy this hits so close to home. Sometimes you need a little space (and time) between the you and the things before you realize you don't need or want them.

I have a bunch of boxes of stuff to go through. I still find it kind of draining (all that decision-making!), and can only handle a little at a time.