“This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.
Its 4 AM on Thursday morning and I’m wide awake. I left my windows open last night because it’s pretty warm for the middle of October in New Jersey. What I thought was a driving rain outside was really the pine trees swaying in a strong steady wind. Autumn is pushing the last of summer away.
Rolling over in the dark, I realize that I’m trapped under my laptop cord. Again. I passed out around midnight trying to start this post. It was supposed to be about taking the first steps to setup a budget but I was having trouble focusing in on it. Most weeks, I would have had a post done a few days ago.
Then I noticed the date down in the corner of my screen. October 12th.
In about four hours, it’ll be the exact anniversary since the mother of my kids lost her fight with leukemia.
I should have tons of things to write about. Trying to raise two kids from the ages of ten and seven on one income is always a juggling act. So I should have an endless stream of ideas on budgeting, working from home or affording iPhones and still paying the utility bills.
But over the last few days it’s been difficult to distill dozens of personal finance experiences into one clear topic. It’s like wading through a room full of clothes, looking for that one shirt that you know is there, but you just can’t find it.
“Change is Inevitable – Evolution, however, is optional.” Tony Robbins
One thing that single parenting forces you into, whether you like it or not, is multitasking. There’s no splitting up the chores of bill paying, cleaning, driving to sports practices or making dinner. Oh, and working. It’s all you, all the time.
So in the last few years, the incomplete projects have been piling up. I have enough tools in my garage to build a house, and yet sometimes when I need a simple screw driver I can’t find it.
I went upstairs three weeks ago to declutter the spare room we use as an office. I thinned out files stuffed with bills from seven or eight years ago. The closet is overflowing with gadgets, kid’s school projects and stuff that I ‘might need’.
Today, three weeks later, the big garbage bag still sits in the middle of the floor, half full next to more piles of bills waiting to be sorted. The closet remains untouched.
On this anniversary of becoming a single parent, I realize that even with the overwhelming clutter and never-ending chores, I’m still the “lucky” one. I still get to see my kids go through all their milestones.
In fact I remember her telling me, about three weeks before she passed, “I’d give anything to be in your shoes…to be the overwhelmed single parent, struggling to make ends meet.”
So, that conversation always puts things into perspective for me. But I’m wondering if the physical clutter and my hesitation to discard things from the past is getting in the way of moving forward.
Having or Being
I wouldn’t know feng-shui if it hit me in the face, but apparently I may be on to something. According to Peter Walsh, the “Get Your Life Organized Guy” from the Oprah show, letting clutter accumulate around you does affect everything else in your life:
“You want a life built on a solid foundation, but you can’t even see the floor beneath you. You want to lose weight, but your kitchen is overwhelmed with appliances you never use. You want to build your career, but your office literally makes you feel ill. You want to change? This is where it starts: your home. Where you live, breathe, rest, love, and create. Forget the self-help books. Get rid of the clutter. Get organized. If you do, I promise that every aspect of your life will change in ways that you never imagined possible”.
For someone concerned about personal finances, hanging on to things we might use again has always made sense to me. I mean, why discard something and take a chance on buying it a second time?
But when that habit extends over years, the price you pay in stress seems to eclipse any monetary value in saving it. You can stuff all the crap that’ll fit into your closets and attic and shove the door closed. But we still struggle to keep a mental inventory.
According to Geralin Thomas, of A&E’s Hoarders, “Your house has to be something other than just a container for your stuff. You need to figure out if your possessions orient you toward having or being. The havings want to acquire and possess. For beings, it’s all about experience. The beings are eager to let go of things that aren’t being enjoyed and used; the opposite is true for the havings”.
Looking through my closets and garage, I can see I’m living in a container of stuff we haven’t used in years. So, maybe they’re right. Maybe hanging on to stuff from my past is preventing me from focusing on the present.
In nature, as well as in our family’s past, October is a reminder of death. But it should also be a time for rebirth. The craziness of summer along the shore is ending so it seems like the right time to refocus.
So, as an experiment, starting today and for the rest of October, I’ll be clearing away a lot of our stuff from the past. My aim isn’t to become a minimalist, but maybe to see if physical clutter is related to mental clutter.
Nothing’ll be safe. Old bills, kid’s toys, electronics, office supplies, blankets, clothes, tools, kitchen items – anything that hasn’t been used in the past year or so will be tossed or donated.
I’ll probably take lots of pictures of old art projects, and it’ll be tough tossing away family objects from the past. But hopefully later this season new energy will start to fill the void, and 2018 will bring more ideas and less sleepless nights.