Zen and the Green Art of Decluttering

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

Give Me a Break

There is a saying that says something along the lines of, “If you want to see what’s going on inside someone’s head just look inside their drawers.” And this weekend as we were preparing to head out of town and stress levels were running high because we couldn’t find flip-flops, bathing suits, towels, sweatshirts, DS chargers, etc. … I knew it was time to look inside mine: my drawers, my closets, my laundry room.

One look around the house and I began to get restless. I couldn’t concentrate and I couldn’t get organized. My mind was cluttered and so was my house. I had been blaming my constant anxiety on our family’s state of greenness (see my last post), but in retrospect I think the state of my house was the culprit.

All these months of focusing on living a more environmentally friendly life, as well as running kids to soccer and baseball games, working my editorial job, helping with school projects, freelance writing and life in general had left no time to focus on our house and our family was paying the price.

We were leaving in 15 minutes, we weren’t packed because we couldn’t find anything and I was beginning to hyperventilate. I knew a trip to the shore would relieve me of that stress, but I still had to return. Something had to give.

So I did want any mother would do with a house (and mind) in the sad, desperate shape that mine was in: I threw the half-packed bags in the car (kids are resilient) and sent my husband and three kids off to his brother’s house in Connecticut without me for TWO DAYS.

Cue the beam of light and angels singing … Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

OK their might have been a small ulterior motive to staying home besides digging my way out of the heaps of clutter. My sister was in town with my 7-month-old niece (so cute) and I was definitely in need of some downtime (I don’t think I had taken a day for myself to just “chelax” since September). So I waved goodbye, shed a few tears (Ah the GUILT) and I headed off to the lake, played with my niece, ate lunch and came home and took a nap. Can you say heaven?

I even watched a girlie flick that first night with no interruptions or eye-rolling and side comments from my husband.

But then Day #2 arrived and the real work began. I headed to the laundry room and began to weed my way through the mountain of clothes. Did I mention I hate laundry? I separated. I washed. I folded and still that pile remained knee-deep. I could say that, being in the midst of our quest for green, our lack of washing was an extremely lame attempt to conserve water, but this was not the case.

Sports uniforms, the missing bathing suits and sweatshirts, the T-shirts I had already washed and folded not too long ago all lay before me in a giant smelly heap begging to be released of the dirt and grime. It tried to suck me in and divert me from the task at hand, but I persevered. I refused to quit. That laundry was one piece of the puzzle that when completed would resemble my long-lost sanity, and nothing was going to stop me from getting it back.

Then I moved into the guest bedroom where my husband had been dumping the clean laundry for the past month and folding about a quarter of everything he put there. I made a pile for things that didn’t fit anymore or that no one would wear. I put away winter sweaters and turtlenecks until next year and miraculously I began to feel a little less agitated.

Next I tackled the closets. And again I separated the piles. One bag of shoes and two bags of winter coats later I felt victorious. My house was beginning to mirror the calmness I was beginning to feel inside.

Basements and playrooms, office materials and entryways were no match for my fully rejuvenated self and by the time my husband returned on Monday afternoon I had had my fill of alone time and decluttering. But the results of my efforts quickly spilled over onto my husband and kids. The house now had a completely Zen sort of feel to it, and we all relished it. I even relished the fact that through the entire decluttering efforts, which usually includes me, the clutter and a giant dumpster, had a green element to it.

You see, I have a confession. I have been so overwhelmed by the state of my house and all the running around that some of my green efforts had fallen by the wayside in the past couple of weeks. We hadn’t been grocery shopping in weeks and were eating regularly at the snack bar at my son’s Little League games. Our organic vegetables were rotting in the fridge, because no one was ever home to eat them and when we were I couldn’t organize my mind enough to prepare anything decent for dinner. I was throwing out things that could have been donated to Goodwill just to get them out of my way. We were still composting and recycling (thank you for that) and the kids were making a good effort at conserving energy (we are still awaiting the electric bill to see how successful we were), but after decluttering there is new life in our house and new energy to our greener lifestyle.

I am happy to say we had a healthy, semi-organic meal last night and it was delicious. Three bags of clothes have been donated to those in need with two more bags of winter coats and shoes heading to the Goodwill today.

The lights are turned off when we leave a room, because we can actually find the actual lights themselves and/or the switch needed to do so.

And the best thing about my recent decluttering efforts: my thoughts are organized too, so I can finally finish this Green Mama column. Ahhhh … Peace.


Kelly Bevan McIlquham

Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, two black labs, a cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate in the Berkshires where she especially enjoys writing family- and education-related articles and her monthly “Parent to Parent” column. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her work published by Wee Ones online family magazine. Her new blog “Green Mama” chronicles her journey as a “green” parent in every sense of the word — from her parenting naiveté to living greener. When not writing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games. kwm229@msn.com

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