Coming Home: Clearing the Way to Spaciousness
In 1996 I walked away from teaching at one of Boston’s preeminent schools at the height of a 20-year career. I was at the top of my game, and burned out. I didn’t know what I loved anymore, or who I was.
What was I thinking? I wasn’t. That’s why I could do it.
I was too fried to think anymore.
And yet, pulling the plug was no small achievement for someone so tightly wired as I was to a daily routine, a professional identity, and financial security. All I could do for the first few months after quitting was grieve for the old parts of myself that I was deliberately dismantling—unaware that my perfect-storm crisis was like a pebble that started an avalanche of clearing and transformation that continues to this day.
By releasing a huge part of my personal and professional identity, I was able to get in touch with the things that made my heart sing (and cringe): my passions, my longings, my fears…my clutter! For the super-organized neatnik that I am, this last revelation came down like a sledgehammer to my self-concept and worldview.
Yes, hidden away in the dark recesses of my house, I had boxes of things I hadn’t seen or used in decades. From floppy disks, to college term papers, to photos of people I didn’t recognize, suitcase keys (each pair neatly secured with a twist tie), and clothes that I might just fit into again (not)—I had secretly saved and squirreled away everything “just in case.”
I finally got the memo. I could face my demons and learn to let go, or remain as I was: overwhelmed, stuck, lost.
So I began to unclutter.
Though modest in the beginning, the process of shedding my physical clutter seemed to grow organically and exponentially: Searching for a plastic food container led to recycling dozens of excess lidless yogurt cups, consolidating the condiments in the fridge, tossing unidentifiable freezer items laden with inches of frost.
Small tasks morphed into bigger ones: Removing dog-eared flyers, stale artistic masterpieces, and rubbery magnets (selling pest management services) from the refrigerator door led to a long-overdue renovation project that opened up a dividing wall in our kitchen; added a fresh, colorful coat of paint; and offered a new lease on life.
Before I knew it, my clearing became a journey—a journey that had much less to do with clearing out “things” than it did with clearing out my attachments to things.
Weeding out the material excesses of my home and life became an enlightening practice of feeling the experience of clearing. Feeling how congested or gummy or even nauseous I can be after an hour of moving junk around. Feeling how much my feet hurt, or how clearing makes me more thirsty and sluggish. Feeling how hard and painful and embarrassing it is to let some things go. Feeling how good it feels in the house after I’ve put stuff in the recycling bin and walked it out to the curb for the Friday morning pickup. Feeling my feelings fully and completely without attaching any more drama to them or taking them personally.
Turns out I didn’t need to go on a pilgrimage or meditate on a mountaintop to find myself. My home became my temple, my clutter was my teacher, and my journey of self-discovery began with clearing out a single drawer. Softening the hardwiring of my past has become a kind of hero’s journey that involves slowing down and bringing compassionate awareness to clearing one suitcase key, unrecognizable photograph, and freezer-burned lump-that-passes-as-food, at a time.
If the purpose of life is to unlearn what has be learned and remember what has been forgotten, as the Sufi saying goes, I had inadvertently bumped into my curriculum. I began to remember what I had long forgotten: Creating beautiful home spaces that feel good and nourish people has been a passion of mine since I was a child.
It’s been another 20 years since the fateful day that I walked away and came home to myself; two decades that have taken me on a wild, unexpected, and enriching path of house whispering, book writing, and teaching again.
And yes, more clearing.
You see, you never know what can happen when you clear the clutter in your life. It just might take you to places beyond your wildest hopes and imaginings.