by Dana Snyder-Grant
The Beacon (Acton MA) 

"Connections" column

It all started when my husband, Jim, and I prepared our home for a house swap. I had to clear out space in my drawers for the couple who would live here in June.

I remembered the directive I had read to help multiple sclerosis patients, like myself, deal with the fatigue, dizziness and cognitive confusion that was part of the illness: "de-clutter your environment." Well, my drawers overflowed. Papers were piling up. I knew clutter. So I decided to use this clearing out — the first in ten years — as an excuse to get rid of stuff.

I started to make choices about what clothing I would keep and what I would throw into the Goodwill boxes at the dump. Decision-making has never been my strong suit.  I thought about the torturous time I had ten years ago, choosing to begin medication for MS. I usually clutter my mind with second guesses. But now, choosing was a relief. I was tired of not finding things. This time, I chose with clarity and ease.

It was shocking to recognize that I owned clothing I had not worn in well over three years. There were the slacks, which I had purchased more than two decades ago at a clothing boutique on the North Shore, owned by my friend's mother. Oh, where is Karen now, I wonder, remembering our supportive talks as first-year teachers.

There were the hordes of socks, some with holes, some without their match. I had always wanted to save these socks, just in case...But this time, I placed them in a bag for Goodwill.

I cleared off the top of my bureau, throwing away to-do lists and shopping lists, now forgotten, that had somehow found their way onto this horizontal surface. Some had never been discarded, because maybe, just maybe, I would buy that new brand of tea that Sue had recommended, or purchase those capri pants that Rachel had suggested. I went through birthday and Valentine's Day cards which Jim had given me, and which I had saved, but never put away. Now, I placed the cards in their own bag and put it at the corner of my study.
I loved it, freeing up space, choosing what really mattered. On our return from the house swap in Colorado, a cleansing trip that opened up my heart and mind to possibility, as travel often does, I resumed. Lately, I'd had more energy and it was summer, after all. Days were longer, work was less intense, and time and space stretched out before me.

I became a bit manic. I wanted to ride this miracle of organizing energy for as long as I could. I tackled my study, an office that has housed manila envelopes of book proposals, client information, and mental
health presentations from the past umpteen years. I recycled drafts of my book, rejected by commercial publishers, yet which I had self-published with success. Had I saved them because I was still waiting for Random House to discover me? This was indeed a cleansing.

I gleaned my client files, shredding paper to preserve confidentiality. I entered the twenty-first century and admitted that all these important documents were on the computer with backups. If I saved just one paper copy of each, wasn't that enough?

I discarded those over-sized letter envelopes, though saved the larger manila mailing envelopes. I'd always told myself to keep the odd envelopes, "just in case," and to save those papers, as there may be something I need in that pile. I threw out the old magazines that I no longer looked at.

Clearing away clutter has become a spiritual exercise. I've let go of what I thought was so necessary. I've trusted my decisions with fewer doubts. These are not life and death choices.

And then I decide to act on my aching desire to get my hair cut REALLY short. The heat motivates me, but so does my drive to simplify and trust my choices, and to cut out stuff in my life, whether it be paper or clothing, or my self-doubts or my hair.

Organizing also means I can find a few old gems. I've recovered a lost c.d. with my favorite R.E.M. song. I've reconnected with Karen, my old teaching buddy. I've re-read old cards from my husband.
I use a new mantra now for meditation: "clearing out." And my space no longer has room for second-guesses..

Dana Snyder-Grant is a social worker and a free-lance writer who lives in Acton. Her new book, Just Like Life, Only More So and Other Stories of Illness, can be purchased at Willow Books in Acton or on the internet at http://www.justlikelifeonlymore so.com/

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