It’s March, the air is getting warmer and we’ve been talking about spring cleaning. We haven’t gotten the basement completely back in order since Christmas and the garage hasn’t really been cleaned for ten years or longer. We recently talked about the value of looking forward and not hanging on to the past. That was triggered in a discussion about the beatitude: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit. We realized that it involves simplifying our lives in the spiritual and physical realms. It is hard to simplify when we are living in the past and keeping lots of clutter around.
A few years ago we did start in the basement and got rid of many things. We discovered that I had kept every check we had written on every account we had since we were married – it might even have included the checks Rita wrote on her account before were married! We had many other financial records going back more than 20 years – so much that we burned out a paper shredder. The situation is much improved, but I still have to sort through and get rid of some plumbing and electrical construction materials.
For many years I disassembled every old piece of furniture and major appliance before we got rid of it and kept the nuts, bolts screws and brackets “just in case” I might be able to use them in a project sometime. Now I have jars, boxes and plastic tubs full of all of those parts, and I can’t find the part I need, even if it is in there, somewhere. I’m not totally sure that there isn’t still a used washer or dryer motor lying around. I do know that there is a pair of stereo speakers that have not been used since we moved into the house thirteen years ago. The list could go on…
Rita is much more ready to throw out or recycle things than I am. She is always ready to get started at cleaning up something. That makes me nervous – I know she is going to push me to move stuff out before I am ready. That has been an issue all of our lives, but, over time we have had discussions about our expectations and have opened up the subject to the point that I recognize the importance of getting rid of old stuff and I’m willing to let her push me. On some items I will push back. At least we can have an open discussion and decide together whether an item stays or goes. I find myself actually looking forward to cleaning out the garage. I do like to live in places that are neat and tidy (the living areas of our house always are) and there is much that had a purpose when it went into the garage, but doesn’t any longer.
I think that part of being “poor in spirit” includes clearing the material things that we no longer need or use out of our lives. The process is also an opportunity to reflect on our past and enjoy the memories. We will keep enough memorabilia that we can go back again but it will be more accessible, e.g. We have many thousands of pictures of family, travels and other events. No more than 5-10% are of any value. I am always pleased when we can recycle items or give them away so that they again have value for someone else.
(Rita) It is interesting being married to a “pack rat” who also doesn’t like clutter. I, on the other hand, like things neat and tidy meaning that closets and cabinets are neat and orderly and my decorating style is minimalist. We have lived with this through all our years together. Since we both like things to be neat and tidy, we haven’t accumulated a lot of knick-knacks or items we don’t use. However I have learned that Bob is happiest if I allow him to indulge his need and want of keeping some things just in case he might need them someday. In the three homes we have owned we have always managed to carve out a space that was an office/den for him and he controlled the garage area. When he was teaching or doing consulting work it allowed him a space to keep paper, whether that was lesson plans, tests, blueprints of buildings or stacks of paper filled with computer code. In the garage he kept parts of nearly every thing that had worn out—just in case he might be able to fix something. The thing is he is excellent at fixing just about anything. Most of the time I left these areas alone, but every few years, or when he finished a project I’d offer to help him organize things. Part of my motivation was that I often saw his frustration when we knew he had something but had no real idea where it was. His need to keep financial records resulted in boxes and eventually plastic tubs full of records. It wouldn’t have been so bad but we have four children who also inherited a little of the need to keep things.
I’m not exactly sure why but I don’t have any problem getting rid of things. Perhaps it fits in with my always wanting to look ahead to a future, rather than looking backward. Memories are stored in my mind and heart, not in things. I grew up in a large family where clothes was handed down or passed on to someone else in need. While I don’t mind the way Bob keeps his spaces, I don’t feel comfortable in heaps of clutter. The one thing I learned in all the years was that this is my issue and that I can’t place expectations on Bob. Even when he did ask for help or recognize that it was time to get rid of things, I knew it stressed him. I was/am willing to dump things that haven’t been used in years but he needs to go through everything just to make sure that there isn’t something in the box that he might want to keep. I have learned to offer to organize things so that it is easier for him to go through them. I don’t want this to sound like I give in or give up – we now work through the process together.
As the years pass and we continue to think about the Beatitude of being poor in spirit with all that it means, it has become easier for both of us to look at possessions. It is not that we don’t like new things and don’t continue to buy new things for our home – we have come to look at the differences between needs and wants. There is little in our life that we have need for. All our basic needs are taken care of, so that leaves us with wants. Recognizing that helps us to constantly look at what we continue to keep and what it is okay to part with. The next months/years will be interesting as we take some of those steps to clean out and reorganize the den, the basement and the garage. It is actually fun because we have time together and I don’t force him to get rid of anything if he is not ready to do so
Please leave a comment. How do you deal with differences in the way you approach decisions to keep or dispose of things?