By Danielle French

Time to Simplify

When the urge to de-clutter and simplify strikes, it’s easy togo through closets and sort out clothes that no longer fit or look right, or pick through the kitchen drawers and put items I no longer use or find useful in boxes to be donated.

But then there are all the little things that surround me and are so difficult to part with. They are often the cause of both clutter and beauty around me. What am I supposed to do with them? Some I have bought, some have been given to me. Would I feel more free without them? Years ago, during one of my many moves in Toronto, I heard a story about a family that lost everything when their moving truck was stolen. I thought, “How liberating—I’d love it if that happened to me!”

In some ways, my possessions are part of who I am. For example, I couldn’t possibly get rid of the ironstone dishes my grandmother gave me. No, they are not practical for everyday use, but having her bean pot and milk pitchers on my shelves reminds me not only of her but also of the way she chose to live her life. She cooked on a wood stove, preserved her own food—she and my grandfather lived simply, by choice. They were back-to-the-land when back-to-the-land wasn’t cool.

Before the girls and I made our (last?) move to the Bethany Hills, I had moved 11 times in about 13 years. This was partly because I suffered from renovation-itis (symptoms included having to leave a house once it looked the way I wanted it to), but also comprised a year in Germany and time in temporary accommodations while a home was being overhauled (see “renovation-itis”, above.)

Looking back, I see that time as a vicious circle of movement. It was a big life, bigger than I wanted or needed. And with every step, more “stuff” accumulated. That meant that the farmhouse was filled with an assortment of things, some lovely and some that were just a bit—well, part of that old life.

Last year, the girls persuaded me to let go of the past and live only with things that belonged here. It was the strangest (and most fun) two days together! The tunes blasted while I had an out-of-body experience watching these amazing young women CLEANING! They emptied cabinets, organized DVDs and an endless assortment of craft supplies. We moved furniture around, listed items for sale on websites, made donations. In the end, we all felt pretty pleased with ourselves.

After all, we love our home. Even though we freeze in it, even though the animals often take over, even though it is often a swirl of chaos. It is also a place of beauty, calm and respite from the world for all of us.

Now, one year later, I think I need to do it all again. Stuff piles up; it needs organizing. The girls and I all need to let go of more. Listening to an interview with Gail Blanke, author of Throw Out Fifty Things, I felt proud of myself—I’d done that already! But she is right: de-cluttering is something you need to do all the time.

It is important, though, to have the right frame of mind about it. Gretchen Rubin has some great ideas in this list of tips from her wonderful Happiness Project blog.

She says “Outer order contributes to inner calm,” and I agree. To put yourself in a place of growth, you need to have the space to do it. Growing things need room. But for me, I also need to surround myself with the things that inspire me. The coffee pot that sits on my cookstove also sat on my grandmother’s cookstove, and I want it that way. Which means that a certain amount of clutter will always be with me.

But maybe that is part of the growth—recognizing what you need to keep and what you can let go of.

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