Making Space

A few months ago, I made the decision to live with less. Actually, I feel like this is a decision I made much longer ago than just a few months, and so I have continued to make this decision over and over again in my life for many years, dabbling in it here and there at random. In this most recent chapter, I really got serious about letting go as a practice.

I’d noticed Marie Kondo and all the press (good and bad) she was getting. How could I not? I resisted jumping on the bandwagon at first, because opting out is often my default habit with most “trends.” I finally watched an episode or two of her show when I had a free afternoon, out of pure curiosity, and I started to experiment with asking myself the, “does this spark joy” question. I went through a drawer and practiced folding my clothes a new way. I put several items in the donation pile. I borrowed and read her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I began listening to a podcast about decluttering. I put several more items in the donation pile.

I made the decision to clear out part of our basement so that we could have a place to practice karate without putting ourselves or our living room furniture in danger. I filled up my entire minivan with boxes and bags to donate and dump. Twice. (And there’s another pile growing.)

Then I returned to my clothing, to my desk and my bedroom. I found that clearing the space that was my own (where toys and kids clothes, paperwork and other such objects were not allowed to remain) centered me. It gave me something to strive for in the more communal areas of our home. At the same time, if I could actually maintain my own belongings in my own space, then maybe I could also translate that ability to clearing and maintaining other rooms. I got excited. And I imagined myself helping and training my family to be okay with making more space for themselves as I moved through the process of doing my own work.

As I actually began to remove some of my stuff from the house, I also started to see myself in a new way. I began to see that I wasn’t really as disorganized and messy as I’d always thought. In fact, the more spaces and surfaces that emerged empty and organized, the more pleasure I had just existing in their presence. I felt like I had some space to breathe. To see myself and my priorities more clearly.

I realized that it came down to choices. First I had to make the decision to seriously declutter. Then I had to choose to participate in the habits and behaviors that maintained the space and freedom I’d uncovered. Each day, I am trying to take the time to maintain what I’ve done and spread the space into other areas of my home, sometimes just one partial surface or drawer at a time. And the physical and mental freedom that I’m discovering is actually helping me through the transition to a new season of space in my family life. Which is something I didn’t expect.

This week, all three of my children started school. I no longer have a toddler or young children to entertain or drag along while I work or run errands throughout my days. I don’t need childcare or spouse-aligned scheduling. This is new. This is the season that is so hard to see from the unrelenting early years of high-demand parenthood. This is where I am now. And the space in my schedule is beautiful to look at, and also a little bit intimidating to see. And though I didn’t intend to declutter in order to prepare my mind and heart for this transition, it coincided quite seamlessly. Whether I began it because of my subconscious knowing what was approaching or my mental clarity and ability to wake up to the space making that’s evolved as a result of my recent choices, I couldn’t say for sure.

So whether somehow intentionally or completely unintentionally, I have made myself some space. Not just in my closets and drawers, but in my mind and my heart as well. And I have given myself a beautiful gift. The gift of this time and space to see and evaluate and decide who to be and what to do.

There is also time for grief. And I know there will be grief. There has already been several moments I’ve recognized as grieving. And I often wondered, while I was working on my many projects this summer, if I was possibly running from or trying to cover up those feelings. The answer is most certainly yes. And…

Yes, I wanted to avoid being too sad and weird around my energetic and awesome kids while they were with me. And I also wanted to improve my home so that I could BE present in it in a new way. So that I could allow myself the space to be, do and FEEL whatever I needed to in safety and privacy. So over the course of the next few weeks, I know that I will be giving myself permission to feel all the feelings that are waiting to wash over me as my children continue to grow up despite all my requests that they stay little for just a few more minutes. I am giving myself space for this, and giving myself permission to see the time I spend processing this transition as necessary and important. Because just like so many of the other metamorphoses of my motherhood, if I don’t acknowledge, celebrate AND grieve, I know I will find myself lost. It’s happened before.

I appreciate the timing of my intensified practice of letting go, coincidental or otherwise. Because it all merges together, overlaps and circles back. The shifting of my self. The setting of my space. The intentional filling of the newly open areas. The transition to having all school-aged children.

Parenting starts off so intense. That baby literally would not survive without constant care and attention. From birth, we learn the gradual art of release. We exercise and build that muscle that keeps us planted and cheering them on as they slowly move away. We let go as they learn to crawl and walk, we continue to practice letting go even as every fiber of our being wants to hold on just a little bit tighter, just a little bit longer. And we watch as they continue spiraling further and further from the nucleus of us until they don’t need to come around anymore. And with secure connection and relationship maintenance, a lot of deep breaths and mistakes and guilt and So. Much. Love… we hope after all our efforts, that they will want to return once they’ve grown and flown into their own successful lives and selves. This season I’m entering is notable for its significance in this process, this slow and constant big-picture release.

So I’m making space. To be and stay open. I’m making intentional choices. For the first time in a very long time, I am deciding for myself who I am. And I get to decide who I want to be. Because I’m learning that there really are no limits. Even the ones I’ve previously set for myself. There are only choices. Thousands on thousands of small choices each day that add up to a whole person. Someone I’m excited to learn more about and get to know better.

My intention in writing today is to sit and process. To give perspective to those who might still be deep in the trenches of new or early parenthood. To inspire someone to make a new choice or see themselves in a new way. To step in and remind you that no matter what your circumstances are right now, they will change, sooner or later, with or without your input or efforts. We get to choose, though, how we respond to circumstances outside our control. Holding something too tightly will often break or stifle it. Letting go is not always comfortable, it’s almost never painless, but trusting the process can be so rewarding in so many unexpected ways.

Choosing to make space for myself is not an easy thing. “Self care” is shouted at us from all sides (at moms and women noticeably more often than at others) because we can’t seem to be trusted to put ourselves first. And at the same time, we can’t always trust anyone else to take care of us, either. So, for me to mindfully and intentionally put myself first in THIS way almost feels like an act of rebellion. Maybe it is. I want my self care in the form of a sustainable arranging of my days instead of the rarely desired (by me) occasional bubble bath or pedicure. I’m interested in how this will work out. Because based on what I’ve seen so far, I think it’s going to be pretty amazing. And probably take a lot of hard work.

Influences and inspiration for this post and related activity (in no particular order):
Be Uncluttered Podcast:
All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers and the Myth of Equal Partnership:
Miick Systems and Conscious Communication:
Adult Conversation Podcast:
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up:
The Untethered Soul: