So. For my February “Happiness Project” work, I thought I would spend some time de-cluttering. In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen talks about various forms of clutter that drain your energy, like household clutter, closet clutter, “freebee” clutter (hand-me-downs) and “nostalgia” clutter (relics of the past that you’ve been holding on to.) Of course, it’s just like weeding a garden; a necessary step so that healthy plants can thrive. And I do want to thrive.
The nostalgia clutter in my house right now is thick. My house is full of reminders of a life, an era, a person that is gone. Oh, I’ve moved some things out and other things around, but there is so much left over. So many reminders of the past.
My sister came to stay with the kids last fall for a week, and she said she felt like there was a lot of negative energy in the house. Maybe it’s because she sat in the red chair in the living room and stared at the photos on the piano (also my altar), which still include a photo of The Four Of Us from another era, back when I was more aware of “Looking Good” than “Feeling Good.” Sigh. (I noticed when I came back that she had moved the photos around, so that particular picture would not keep staring at her.)
I mentioned this problem to a friend of mine, and she suggested that I call in a Feng Shui expert. Someone who could help me assess my situation and shift around that negative household energy. That intrigued me. So, I found an expert who said she not only could do some household blessings but also make recommendations for how to improve the energy “flow” in our house. Good. A bit hurriedly, I hired her. Let’s do this thing.
When she came, we sat and talked, and then we did the blessings, mixing rice and liquor and Cinnabar powder in a bowl and tossing it in nine special areas of the property. We chanted the chants, we reviewed the bagua she drew, we walked through the house and she made recommendations to keep this and throw away that. She looked at me searchingly, and said, “You know, you don’t have to keep something, just because somebody gave it to you.”
The effect was not quite what I expected.
After she was gone, I looked at my house with my new “Feng Shui eyes,” and I was sad. Overwhelmed. I thought about how each piece of furniture in my house tells a story, either because it came from my grandmother, my aunt, my mother, my mother-in-law, or from the early days of setting up our married household.
Which of these things is not authentically me? Which is just baggage, cluttering up my life and draining my energy? Which is somebody else’s story, masquerading as mine? Which is an old story, that I don’t want to read anymore because it’s too sad?
For my collage, I had found a Georgia O’Keefe quote that said, “I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.” I knew I needed to look, for myself, at what I had been “taught,” and decide what to keep and what to let go of.
As I lay on the gold couch in the living room one Sunday afternoon (from my parents’ living room 50 years ago, and also the preferred spot for my occasional Sunday naps), Camille came in to lie down with me, just for a few moments, as only a teen-ager who has once been a little girl will sometimes do. She let me wrap my arm around her as she surveyed the house from that vantage point.
“Do you think we’ll always remember this?” she said. “The way the pictures look on the piano? The way the books on that shelf look over the TV? The art on the walls?” I thought I heard a message: “These things are important to me, Mom. I find comfort in these everyday household objects. They tell me I am Home.”
I learned in a support group that I can “Keep what I like, and leave the rest.” I don’t have to take anything wholesale. A wise friend further clarified: “Here’s the test. When you look at an object in your home, does it bring you comfort, or pain? What is comfortable to you? What story does each object tell in the present?” If, when I look at an object, it brings a smile to my face, no matter what its past history is, no matter whose it was, then I can keep it. And if it brings me pain, I can let it go.
Or, as that infamous photo on my piano reminds me, “Does it merely LOOK good, or does it FEEL good?” If it just looks good, but feels bad…I need to let it go.
What a concept! What a test for life! What empowering freedom! Am I comfortable with this thing, whatever it is…a household object, a personal situation, a business decision? I must learn to notice how it makes me feel. And I need to STOP doing — or holding on to — what DOESN’T feel comfortable to me. Even if it might displease someone else. And guess what else? I don’t have to decide all these things at once. It’s a discovery process. And it’s going to take some time to sort it all out. I can do that.
I know. This might not seem too revolutionary to some people. (Duh! Of course, Jennifer!) But for me, this is a challenge. Frankly, I have a hard time even thinning radishes! Can you believe, I feel sorry for the little radishes that won’t grow? Sigh.
I guess, in retrospect, it’s not so surprising that in high school I was named, “Most Sentimental.” Back then I couldn’t imagine what they were talking about. But perhaps they were right, after all. And maybe that’s something, of myself, that I will hold on to.
Here. In the garden.