It’s that time of year when you need to let go of things

By From page A13 | December 29, 2013

It’s that lame-duck time of year. Christmas is over, the new year is yet to begin, and there are still piles of wrapping paper and empty boxes to pick up — and the recycling bin is conveniently stuffed to the hilt, so the piles will remain as testament to my lack of energy at this time of year.

Evidence of precious time with loved ones dot the house — extra blankets here, a left-behind sock there, an abundance of towels in the laundry pile. That makes it difficult to dive in and undeck the halls. So I won’t. I’ll deal with it next year, which, of course, is staring me right in the face.

I’m not ready to face a new year.

Or, maybe I’m too ready.

It changes from moment to moment.

As the new year approaches, I feel compelled to get rid of things — an impulse that horrifies my inner hoarder. I still have blue jeans from high school that will never, ever fit me again, and jars of spices three years out of date, and baubles and trinkets and whatnot (lots of whatnot) that I can’t seem to discard. I pick something up, and it reignites the memory attached to it (faded blues/nostalgia) or the plans I had for it (gingerbread/hope) or simple clinging (could it be Christmas just one more day), and the real, imaginary or symbolic value makes me stuff it back in a drawer again.

I still have jars with my kids’ baby teeth in them, people.

Oh, it’s much worse than that.

I have a jar with my own.

And then I married someone with his own collections of junk that are meaningful only to him and look like garbage to everyone else. Just try to set a spoon down anywhere in our house without having to stack something else. Just try.

It’s hit critical mass. My house, my life, and my head need de-cluttering.

The first step is awareness, right?

Wait, no.

Step One: Admitted we were powerless over clutter; that our lives had become unmanageable.

So, that’s my plan for 2014. Letting go of internal and external clutter. What things aren’t serving me well? What things can I, albeit reluctantly, pry my physical or symbolic fingers from and discard? To do it all at once is overwhelming and psychologically impossible. So, I have a strategy: get rid of just one thing each day that A) no longer serves me well or B) causes me active distress or C) is merely taking up space and compounding the “critical mass” issue.

Just one thing. And, even a tiny thing will count. Like my daughter’s dried-out felt pens, that remind me of her back in high school, in braces and pajama pants, concentrating on her drawing. When I see the pens, I see her. Throwing them all out at once feels like throwing away the memory. So, maybe one pen at a time. Maybe one pen cap at a time. It will still count.

Professional organizers insist that you can hold on to memories, and let go of the things. This is only partially true. It assumes that you can remember anything you want, any time you want, and easily call up any memories on demand. At 54, that’s an awfully big “given.” Past 50, your brain doesn’t just spontaneously generate cherished memories. I mean, how do you even know what you want to remember? When you pick up your son’s baby shoes, see your husband’s handwriting scrawled across an empty red envelope that once held a sweet, sentimental Valentine — that’s when the memory pops up.

If I discard these things, will I ever remember to remember them again? Clearly, I’m already forgetting some things, in contrast to my children, who have total recall of my every shortcoming. Who is this whackjob B-list mother of whom they speak? My memory is that, all things considered, I did a pretty decent job. I most certainly did a better job than my own parents. A quantum leap better. I’m also certain that I did the best I could with the abilities I had at that moment in time. Trouble is, your best can fall short in someone else’s eyes.

Regrets… I have a few…

Sing it again, Frank.

But… regret no longer serves me well and actively causes me distress and is merely taking up space and compounding the critical mass of crap inside my head. I want to discard regret, but it’s a little trickier than tossing out felt pens.

I know that the first step of regret is giving yourself a break for your shortcomings — reminding yourself that, OK, although it was a great effort, sometimes in life, the effort/result ratio is less than optimal. This is a fact. I could try and try and try to be a ballerina or a mathematician or an opera singer, and the effort will always outweigh the result on a massive scale. It just ain’t gonna happen. I recognize that going forward. But recognizing it in reverse still pinches.

Maybe you have to acknowledge your shortcomings before you can forgive yourself for them. So, here goes:

Dear kids, I regret my parental shortcomings more than you could possibly know (until you have children of your own). I wish I could have a do-over, and go back and right every single wrong, and whisk away every tear. But I can’t. I can only go forward and do the best I can do, with the abilities I have, at this moment in time.

Regret. It’s a tether that keeps you looking backwards instead of forwards. It keeps my eyes on the rearview mirror instead of the road ahead. I need to let go of it.

I’ll start with felt pens. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at [email protected]; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com

Debra DeAngelo

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