Category: Decluttering

Declutter Your Life – Relationships3

Most of us can’t do it all. We have to decide.

I remember well the poem I wrote when I was middle-aged. (Whatever that is. Isn't 60 the new 40? Which at 81 makes me the new 61? I…don’t…think…so.)

At any rate, I was a very busy woman back then with my own four teenagers and my 60+ piano students. I had to reconsider my life-long notion that I could indeed do everything and have it all.

Each segment of my life – my husband, my children, my piano students, my parents, my friends, my church – wanted me to cut down on the other segments and give more time to them. In a fit of despair one day, I wrote:

On Being All Things to All People

Many words are written
that I will never read
Many items go on sale
that I will never need

Many notes are playing
that I will never hear
Many hearts are giving
a love I need not share

And many paths there be
to which I may incline
yet somehow a choice I make
and to that choice resign

Here at last in middle years
I know my limitation
and inherent in that truth
I find emancipation

After my diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome at age 58 and breast cancer at 59, I found even more need to choose when and how I will/can do things. I searched for courage, clarity, and compassion for myself.

Judgment Call

I am willing to spend a day teaching children
but I am not willing to track investments.
It was one thing when I had
all the time in the world.
It is another thing now.

I am willing to listen to another’s pain
but I am not willing to chit-chat over lunch.
It was one thing when
any subject interest me.
It is another thing now.

I am willing to walk two miles in the woods
but I am not willing to hunt for a bargain.
It was one thing when I had
all the strength in the world.
It is another thing now.

I am grateful to discover the difference
between things that matter to me —
and things that do not.

(Excerpted from Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness, © 1993, 2003, Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)

And now, I still try to remember and live up to these two poems. It goes better some days than others.

So —

What/who could you give up to make your life more manageable?

Where will you find the strength to say No?

And how is your courage supply today?

Declutter Your Life When Ill – Relationships2

One of my breast cancer friends didn't open cards and letters because she knew she couldn't make the personal response that she had been taught to do. She died–with seven grocery bags of unopened mail sitting in her kitchen.

One of my other friends wondered why I had not responded to her note, asking, "Doesn't she know the etiquette?"

On a walk around the lake one afternoon the following poem popped into my head and I hurried, trying to remember it until I got home:

No Lifeguard on Duty

It is difficult
when one is drowning
to wave to the people
on shore

one wants to be
friendly, of course,

but perhaps it is
more important
to keep

As I recovered from the many surgeries and the radiation therapy and continued to struggle with the CFIDS, I wrote:

On Dealing with Limitation
My life has been circumscribed
by the aspects of

My priorities are
a series of nested circles
beginning with the center
that is me

Daily I choose
the farthest orbit
I can reach

Daily I carefully
spin out rings—
nutrition, rest, exercise
work, play, relationships

But what I really want is
to go zooming out
to the edges of my life
and dance on the periphery

(Both poems excerpted from Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness, (c) 1993, 2003, Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)

Declutter Your Life – Relationships1

Oh, no. Declutter the relationships in our lives?

(I am re-posting this from a year ago.)

We love our families. We love our friends–we go to lunch fifty-seven times a month (no, wait, that doesn't compute). We gad about like flutterbys (on Facebook and off, on Twitter and off, on LinkedIn and off). If we aren't madly chasing about, if our daybooks aren't a sea of scribbles, if our iPhone doesn't beep constantly, if our Inbox isn't at 89 incoming emails and definitely not holding, who are we?

It clearly is "in" to be busy and who hasn't said, "It's just crazy around here, just crazy," while smiling a bit smugly?

Some of us work two or three jobs. Some of us have breast cancer. Some of us have chronic fatigue syndrome. Some of us have other health problems. Some of us deal with tragedy. Some of us have 14 grandchildren and 8 great grands. (I fit into every category but the first one.)

So how do we decide what we can do, whom we can see, what meetings we should attend, what charities to support, how to make a difference?

Each of those we love is important. Each of our friends brings something special to our lives. Most charities are worthy. (But be sure you know which ones.)

To prioritize my life, I have drawn circles. I am in the center.

If I don't take care of myself, there is no energy for the rest of the circles. Les is next, followed closely by our children and their families. (I'm already up to more than thirty people.) That pretty much means I keep up with the rest of the people near and dear to me with a quick email here and there, Facebook, blogs, and the annual Christmas letters. Is it enough? Of course not.

(To be continued)

Declutter Your Life – Home

Who wants a calm, organized home?

Years ago I clipped a small quote from a man named Dr. Moore: There is a certain sanity about a balanced life. A spiritual quality about a well-planned home. A particular security in frugality. And nobility in manual labor–even for children. These are the ways of the good life.

Now I have to admit that during the years I was raising four children (first aged six, four, two, and newborn; then before I knew it, 16, 14, 12, and 10; soon they were…well, you get the idea), it was more difficult to keep our house tidy than it is now. And certainly my desk often looks as if I have opened a window and let a tornado tear through. And I’ve been known to have seventeen file folders scattered on my office floor.

But my well-being depends on orderliness. I find joy in the lemon scent of freshly polished furniture. Knowing where I can find the fingernail scissors or a sharpened pencil steadies my nerves. Clean space and beauty restore my soul.

It seems as if decluttering is a fad right now, but I have lived by these principles for a long time:


Limit your purchases
Picture where you will place an item before you buy it
Toss a garment for each new one you add


I go through every drawer, closet, shelf in our house yearly.
(When I get incapacitated, the tidiness should last five years.)

Everything goes into three stacks: Toss, Keep, and

I make much faster time if I’m not trying to
decide the Undecided right then. Several hours later I
have made so much progress that I am totally motivated
to Toss.

As I sort, I ask:

Have I used this melon-baller lately? Can I replace it?
Do I need more than one nice memento from any given person?
Will this original art make my kids rich if I keep storing it?
What are the chances I’ll ever wear a sleeveless dress again?
Do I REALLY need twenty-nine mugs in a household of two?

January is paper purge month. That’s done for this year. The office feels wonderful and looks pretty. In May I will go through the closets and drawers. The second weekend of November the kitchen gets kempt.

It really isn’t that hard when I have a plan.

So if you hate me already, I totally understand. I hate women who still have lots of hair.

Yes, yes, I know. The OCD, over-the-top, cleanliness-is-next-to-Godliness reorganizing makes my friends and family crazy sometimes.

But I’m serene.

Declutter Your Life – Papers

As I continue to go through files, empty drawers, and toss old calendars, I remember that I did a series on decluttering last year. Since I have a lot of new followers, I'd like to post that series again. I will probably edit a bit, too, because anything I've written before always gets edited. Whether it needs it or not.

Here is the first one:

Forget the play-offs, the Super Bowl, and folderol. January at my house is reserved for cleaning my office and files. That's fortunate, because I am usually so tired of crumpled wrapping paper, bedraggled bows, and cartons of half-eaten fruitcake that I am ready to be ruthless!

Of course, with taxes coming up, the financial files were first—the many EOBs (Explanation of Benefits), the twelve bank statements for each of four different accounts, the pages of hassles with the credit company, the receipts from purchases (some for things useful, others not so much), the letters long since answered, the letters that never got answered.

As for the seven other file drawers, each year I try to leave less of my life for my children to sort. There are, of course, a number of items I need as long as I continue to speak and market books. But I also have tall stacks of various marketing strategies that are already out of date. Wake up to 2013, woman.

Some things I leave because I want the kids and grandkids to see me as a real person. Some things I still have because I'd like at least one of the four to say, "Wow! Mom actually did this?!"

And some I keep because I can't bear to throw those parts of myself away—not yet. They prove I am alive.

But now it's the first full week of February and every drawer feels and looks emptier. Many books on the shelves have moved on to someone who can use them now. I cleared the clippings taped to the hutch above my desk so new pictures and pithier quotes can take their place.

And I find this year, as I did last year and the year before, that those pieces of paper, those scraps of history, those little mementos matter less each time I clean my office.

Once again I tell myself that my authenic life-and-legacy resides in my soul and in the souls of others.

Empty those wastebaskets and recycling bins.