My mother-in-law Jody passed away October 23, and her funeral was last Thursday. She was 88 years old, so she did have a good long run. But her last year or so was pretty rough. Dementia had started to set in and her physical health was also failing (I think the two were related).
As the family begins to clear out her house—she still lived in her tiny house in Branson, Missouri, up until the end—we’re amazed at how much STUFF she had. As a child, I think she often went hungry; the amount of food she hoarded was mind-boggling. We counted 19 bottles of pancake syrup, 12 bottles of juice, and 19 bottles of barbecue sauce. Jody had the curious habit of writing on each item the date she purchased it and how much she paid. Flats of canned corn, and on each: 39¢, September 9, 2014; nail clippers $1, July 7, 1997. She made meticulous notes on everything: the amount of lime she used in her vegetable garden in 2003, where she purchased it, how much she paid; the flock of Canadian geese she saw fly overhead April 23, 2007; who was pictured in this faded black-and-white photo from May, 1938. She saved bread bags, twist-ties, dozens of plates from frozen microwave meals, photos, cards, song books, and gifts she didn’t want to use or give away with a note “gift of love from Roger & Michelle.” We’ve found nine gallons of bleach, at least five bottles of hand sanitizer, and literally thousands of pony-tail holders and bobby pins.
Several times she apologized to her kids, saying that they’d have a hell of a time going through all her stuff when she passed. I remember her telling me in anguish, “I can’t throw it away!” She wasn’t kidding, she really couldn’t. Whatever her reason, it was too painful for her.
I’m telling you about Jody not to poke fun at her—she had her faults, but no one loved bigger and louder than she did. When I first met her, over 30 years ago, I was blown away by how much love I felt from her.
Helping to clear out her stuff made me think about how much I’m still hanging onto. Sure, books and photo albums are easy to rationalize keeping. But what about those boxes in the back of the closet, the ones I know I need to go through. Eventually. Or that stack of stuff on the corner of my desk I still haven’t done anything with? Separately they seem inconsequential, but each item has its weight, and collectively they can weigh heavily on my day-to-day mind. If my expiration date is tomorrow, my family will have to deal with all this stuff. It’s motivated me to get busy.
This feels a lot like the transformational inner work I did a couple of years ago, with the 100 Days of Creative High Growth program. The process of cleaning your inner “house” and letting go isn’t exactly comfortable, and certainly isn’t easy. But man-oh-man does it feel good when you’re finished! Lighter, brighter, more peaceful, free. I’m honored to be teaching this course myself starting January 21, but only to a cohort of 6 people maximum. You might be ready; you might not. I’m here for you if you are.
In the meantime, what are you hanging onto still, that you really don’t need? It might be time to clean house.
Chronic good juju spreader, recovering graphic designer, supporter of all creatives everywhere.