So first, decluttering.
I went through each room of our house and put things into three categories: give away, throw away and keep. Years ago I read Tsh Oxenreider’s book Organized Simplicity, and it was the first tool I had to look at ‘stuff’ differently. In her book she says to look at your things and ask Is it beautiful? Is it useful? and if the answer is no, the thing needs to go. I would also add that for me there are things that are beautiful and useful (or one or the other) that I simply was not using, and I went ahead and gave it away.
Set aside some time before your move to evaluate every single thing you own. I promise your future self will thank you for it. Get rid of the garbage – and think about why we have so much waste (it was scary how much garbage we had lying around in our house). Throw away the little things that take up space on your mantles or bookshelves. Give away books and music that sound good but you don’t really love. Look through your kitchen, are you still using that gadget? Or the pot? Perhaps it is better in someone else’s kitchen.
The most surprising quantity of things I had were three boxes worth of childhood memorabilia. Cards, programs from shows, photo negatives, photographs and albums, notes (remember how we passed notes in class?), basically a forest worth of trees in paper. I spent an afternoon going through each box, reading many of the cards, looking through the photos, laughing at my preteen humor and I will say it, crying several tears.
Transitions are about looking back and looking forward, decluttering can help us do both. I saw a picture of the girl I was, insecure but brave in her own way, forever out of place, misunderstood, confused, and I saw the way slowly, over time, I’ve come to a space of my own, where I have a sense of who I am, what is important to me, what I love and who I want to be with. I saw a girl who didn’t know much about boundaries, a young woman who wanted to please everyone, and it helped me celebrate even more the boundaries I fight to maintain now and the beauty of a life lived within the confines of who I am and what I love. Three boxes of memorabilia became one box by the time I was done, and I suspect that in the years to come I will whittle it down even more.
But I am so thankful for the opportunity to reflect on who I was, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to put the past in the recycling bin. Hopefully someone else will turn it into something useful or beautiful for the future.
And after you’ve decluttered, make sure you say yes to help.
I don’t know what culture you are from (and maybe you could comment, it would be great to find out), but I grew up in Asia and in the United States, and we were always surrounded by a community of people who helped out, no matter what. When the stress piled on, they pulled in closer. Smiling women with casseroles showed up at our door after our family car wreck in 1991, people drove us to the airport in the middle of the night, family members helped us move, friends helped me clean every year that I moved out of my university dorm room.
These were huge gestures to me of love and community, and quite simply, I needed the help. I could not have done it on my own.
Swiss, Swedish and German cultures are different in this department. Very, very different. A stressful time comes your way? Most people pull away because they think you need the space to deal with it on your own. No one wants to burden you with their presence, and no one wants to be a burden themselves. Being strong enough and doing it on your own is highly valued, and people do not want to make you feel like you cannot do it on your own. I remember meeting a new Swedish mom at our church and telling her I would love to bring her a meal, and she looked at me like I had lost my mind. Why would I ever do such a thing? Different culture, different values.
We’ve done most of stressful times on our own for the past few years with very little help from others, not because we have chosen to live that way, but simply because we lived in cultures that had a different attitude about help.
Not this move. This time I knew I would need help, I knew we couldn’t do it on our own. Instead of looking at my life and lamenting the ways in which I didn’t have enough help, I looked instead at the ways I did. I listened carefully to people who offered help and I took them at their word.
I asked for help.
When someone said, Do you need help? The answer they heard back from me was always, always, Yes.
The contrast was huge. A friend brought by a meal while her husband helped my husband cut up furniture we had to throw away, so everything fit in our car. Another friend looked after my boys while I cleaned bicycles. Another friend brought us food, arranged or us to stay in her apartment building, provided toys for our kids and numerous other tiny and big details.
Your friends are probably wanting to help you, too, they may just be waiting for you to ask. Give them specific tasks they can do for you and let them honestly tell you if they can help or not.
Now it’s your turn: What do you need to get rid of in your life or maybe even your heart? Who can you turn to for help? How can you be a help for someone else right now?