Room to breathe.

photo-1When I was little, my mom would throw away our stuff. She has always hated clutter, and no one amasses clutter like kids. If you stopped playing with something long enough, if you fell out of love with a hobby, if you maintained that an item of clothing was your favorite long after it was too small, my mother would dispose of it. One time I went on a mission trip and came back to find she had sold my bike (“You hadn’t ridden it in a year!!”) and another time I came back from camp to find my purple metallic shiny bike shorts were GONE and she still insists that she had nothing to do with that (“Though they were too tight, so it’s probably good that they disappeared.”).  But after the initial shock, my brothers and I pretty much moved forward and didn’t think about it much more. Because stuff is after all, just stuff.

When I moved to Paris after college, I could only take two suitcases for the whole year, which was good, as I only had ten square meters of space. What I found was that I only needed two suitcases, that I still had clothes that I never wore, even though I had pared down my wardrobe to the “absolute necessities.”  I actually liked how little possessions could claim me that year. I liked trying to make a creative or new outfit with the smaller selection I had. Because clothes are after all, just clothes.

All the TAs share an office on campus and this summer we got an office makeover with new paint and a deep cleaning. In the process we threw away boxes of stuff, but somehow there is still more clutter now that we are moved back on. I usually work late Friday afternoons along with another woman and sometimes – if we are getting overwhelmed about school – we just start throwing away stuff. Out with old presentations, out with outdated books, out with stuff that has been there inexplicably for years. And afterwards… there is room to breathe a little easier and a renewed sense of productivity.  Because all that stuff was just forgotten excess, taking up space and cluttering our minds as well as our visual spaces.

Our apartment is small. Not tiny, especially not by city standards, but there is no extra storage. No garage, no attic, no spare bedroom or extra closet. Everything has it’s perfect space, has to have it’s perfect space or there just isn’t room. Still, it is human nature to amass more than we need, to stack up stuff and think we need it.

In case you haven’t been able to tell, this semester, especially the past month has been a little rough. Between James’ job and my school and teaching, we are constantly busy. We are always rushing, always struggling to get out of bed, always trying to squeeze things in and failing. It hasn’t all been bad, but it has certainly been too full.

Which is why this morning, instead of starting on the endless to do list I have, I decided to make a little more space in my life. I tossed out so many pairs of shoes, several purses, a couple pairs of pants, a dress, a skirt, a coat, and so many shirts. I threw out my latest dead plants, and last night I dumped out all the stuff that needed to go in the fridge. (Which, ok, ended in me baking zucchini bread at midnight because I didn’t want to waste zucchini.) I tossed out old newspapers, magazines that we have read, and random papers that have piled up without purpose or explanation. And it feels so good.  Because stuff isn’t inherently wrong, but it can become controlling.

I think that sometimes our minds get so full that we feel claustrophobic in them and something has to go, thus we turn to our spaces. Technically, that’s not logical, as clearing physical space doesn’t equal cleared mental space. But the human soul defies logic and there is a freeing feeling in space, in simplicity, in room to breathe. There is freedom in throwing out the needless and trimming back the excess. We are impacted so much by our spaces that clearing a physical space instantly translates (for me at least) into clearing mental space.

And in this freedom, I feel so thankful that our small space forces us to continually ask if we have more than we need. I know I have already written about the effect that small spaces have on hospitality, but here I am just talking about the effect they have on us and our priorities. I am so thankful that we are starting our married years small. We are learning – by necessity – to be happy with little. I love knowing that we could pack every single one of our belongings in a pretty small Uhaul and roll out on an a new adventure if we had to. We are learning to be free from stuff. We are learning to fill our lives with friends, laughter, ideas, love, and experiences, instead of stuff. We are living in the constant practice of making space to breathe.

Anyone else been clearing some space lately, or needing to?

PS: I absolutely loved this post on a similar topic.

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31 Responses to Room to breathe.

  1. Danica says:

    I’m on the France, 2 suitcase stage. You’re right! I’ve been here a month and there are things that I haven’t even thought to put on. Before I left my mother forced me to throw away bunches of old clothes. It was a very weird experience, why is it so hard to throw away a cardigan with missing buttons that I haven’t worn in a year? There’s something metaphorical in it, but I haven’t gotten to that stage yet.

  2. Anna-bird says:

    Yes! We’re in the middle of this right now (the best part about moving, I think), and it feels so good! Purging makes me so happy. I’m not quite mature enough to say that things don’t matter to me yet (maybe someday?), but for now I’m trying to instead focus on loving fewer things better.

    • Hannah says:

      Listen — I might have choked back tears when I tossed out my Anthroplogie linen sailor pants… but I have worn them once in four years so they had to go.

  3. Well, what you describe here is one of the basic principles of feng shui, and it indeed connects clutter – or us holding on to material things in general – to our state of mind. I find clearing out things extremely relaxing and calming. In that way, moving to the US was hard but at the same time a great experience, because even though I could take more things with me during follow-up trips to Germany (and I still do), it nonetheless forced me to think about which of the things I owned were really important to me. It feels good to be able to let go, in more than one way. …which reminds me I still mean to write a blog post of my own about this topic.

  4. Scotty Smith says:

    As a pastor, I love to hear you make the comparison of connecting physical things with emotional (my term here) baggage. Being able to let go of past emotions associated with a physical object can be so healing spiritually. This is a point that many people refuse to connect to so often because there afraid i think. Thanks for being brave enough to let go of the past and rush full on to the future. From you articles and testimony i know you believe in Jesus, and He sets you free, and i pray this truth you have grasped through a wisdom he has shared with you helps others to be free as well.
    thank you for sharing this.. now i think i have some office clutter i need to attend to my self.

  5. Laura says:

    I have been getting into this mode as well, as we prepare to move. It is SO freeing to get rid of things, and realize that we really don’t need it all. It’s like a security blanket that starts to slowly strangle us after awhile. You are so right – stuff is just stuff.

    Here’s to “fall cleaning!”

    • Hannah says:

      Moving is the best motivator ever. When we got married and moved, James and I both threw out so much stuff to make room. But somehow… it still piles up. I swear my tshirts are having babies in that dresser.

  6. abby hummel says:

    Well, you saw my text message about the cookbook purge… Selling the house and possibly downsizing means Operation DeCrap-ify is on for us — BIG TIME. It feels great, even though I am selling lots of really nice stuff from my wedding registry. My energy and creativity levels have skyrocketed, even though I’m sleeping less. I don’t think it’s that I don’t have lots to think about, because I do, and I’m really exhausted from the excessive vacuuming and polishing for showings. But when I sit down at the computer and I don’t have mess everywhere — it’s really easy to write. It’s easy to think coherently. My brain is breathing again. Life is good. I want it to stay this way.

    My new goal is to reduce the already-purged stuff in our storage garage by 50% before we move!

  7. Jennifer says:

    Perfect post for today! I was just thinking this morning that I needed to get rid of some stuff that I’ve been “saving” for a garage sale….Goodwill seems like a better option all of a sudden! And I completely agree, getting rid of clutter is liberating and feels so good!!!

  8. So maybe when I get home from work at midnight, I should clean my room till I can see the floor again? I admit it has been compounding my stress.

  9. Jess says:

    I finally have my own space after living in dorms, campus apartments, Korea, and then a campus home. It’s so nice to be able to have a place that is my own, but it also shows me how easy it is to accumulate things that are entirely unnecessary. I love being able to host, and it’s vital to my job, so it’s nice to have a place that is clean, free from clutter, and welcome for visitors. I love this post! Such a beautiful take on a thing so easily forgotten.

  10. Andrea says:

    Moving into a room the size of a closet sure helped. You should read Kristin’s experience here: theresalwaysmonday.com/2013/07/22/1530-project-cleaning-out-my-closet I think you would really like her blog, too.

  11. angie stone says:

    It’s in your Stone genetic makeup to deal with stress by throwing something away. But here’s the secret…your mother is also incredibly organized and OCD about putting things in their place which means I can keep collecting more and more stuff and store it in increasingly efficient ways to make possible the acquisition of more stuff to later throw away.

  12. mary beth says:

    LOVED this post, friend. It is our dream to live overseas with our kids for at least a year or two…so I guess we’ve had that in the back of our mind in the past few years as we’ve downsized. Knowing we’re probably not going to be able to take much with us. Then when you think about eternity….nothing’s coming with us then either. And I guess it puts it all into perspective, eh?! I know it’s not for everybody, but we THRIVE off of the challenge to live with less. It has been such a good journey for our family.

    P.S. Read your “About” page. I’ve read many of those, but seriously yours is the best I’ve ever read! Subscribed to your blog…I subscribe to two total now. :)

    • Hannah says:

      I am in total support of that plan and then I will stalk all the pictures of you all and those schooners and live vicariously through them!!! : )

      And the blog love is totally mutual. Since I discovered yours a little while ago, I love every single post and get really excited about new ones. Can’t wait for the book!!!!

  13. RA says:

    Yes, I have been on this wavelength for the past few months. My husband and I give each other an allowance for personal, uncontested spending, and I blew all of mine FOR THE YEAR when my sister and I spent a long weekend in Miami in March. That city is expensive! I’m really glad we did it, and it was so much fun, but that meant I could do no shopping for the rest of the year. It hasn’t been hard at all, to my surprise. I’m realizing the vast excess I have, and that’s after weeding out bags and bags of stuff to donate. I keep wanting to have a nice, streamlined closet, but how does one do that? By getting rid of stuff and not buying new stuff. Hello! Nobel-Prize-winning common sense over here.

    • Hannah says:

      I am so impressed at you all and your allowance!!! I need to buckle down on that because sale racks are my downfall. I always justify that I am “saving”…. but is it still saving if you didn’t need it to begin with?

  14. My mom saved stuff, even used ziploc bags that she would wash! Now I throw away everything. My husband wishes for a happy medium. :)

  15. mary says:

    3 cheers for this post! Our family of four traveled to Germany with 4 suitcases and seriously, sometimes I feel ilke we still have too much stuff! (except I always wish we had more kid clothes because I’m ALWAYS doing laundry, haha!). But one thing I’m realizing is that it’s not enough to simplify what you have, but to have the right things and get rid of the things you don’t care for or don’t need. It’s like you said, “stuff can be controlling.” And I completely relate to your statement about stuff making you feel claustrophobic. Amen. Our “problem” now is that we don’t have things that we need, like oh, a bread pan… or a large pot for making soup… or you name it. It’s been funny, for sure, and resulted in me quite frequently throwing in the towel and saying, “Yo, Cody! I’m going to the bakery. We’re eating Brezeln again tonight!” Which of course, no one is sad about… ; ) I totally just wrote this on Anna’s blog, but if you haven’t yet, you should read the chapter on possessions in Happier at Home, by Gretchen Rubin. Some good stuff, there.

    • Hannah says:

      I want to come and let you feed me Brezeln!!!!

      (No for realz- this is not a joke. I am most likely starting German next semester so I reallllllyyyyyyy want to come visit the Streckers!)

  16. Pingback: Les soldes. | The Art in Life

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