Decluttering My Way To Happiness

When I left my first job at a small-town Colorado newspaper back in the '80s -- yes, Virginia, once upon a time there were such opportunities for recent college grads -- I resold the few pieces of furniture I'd bought from neighbors, entrusted my plants to a friend, wedged the rest of my possessions into my subcompact and headed for "the big time" in New York. I was free and unfettered, literally and figuratively. Over the years, life has become more complex and, like most people, I've acquired more and more stuff. The last time I moved -- 11 years ago -- my husband and I needed professionals to transport us a mere 15 blocks, from one Brooklyn apartment to another. (That said, our one-bedroom's-worth of things only required one trip. Today, I'm guessing we'd need at least three.) On top of that, parenthood and working from home have done nothing to enhance my organizational skills. The DH has come to equate my clutter with hoarding. I beg to differ; let's just say I can stand a bigger mess than he can, or we have different priorities, or both. But I will admit to feeling panicked when, under pressure, I can't locate my phone, keys, or important mail for all the stacks of paperwork, piles of coats, and bags stuffed with odds and ends waiting to be sorted the next time I have a few spare hours. (Don't hold your breath.) With each new year comes the inevitable urge to purge. After all, who doesn't feel better when they've found a place for everything and everything's in its place? I've written about this before. But I've reached a point where I'm looking at the bigger picture, decluttering not just my home office and closets, but my life. As author Barbara Hannah Grufferman advises, it's the only way to become unstuck and make room for whatever lies ahead. "Ask yourself what you want your life to look like over the next few years," Grufferman writes, "and you'll come up with a vision for your future, which will be your personal theme. Once you have your theme, you can work on getting rid of everything in your life that doesn't fit the theme, and you will be prepared to let go of the clutter." According to Grufferman, who cites organization and time-management guru Julie Morgenstern as her inspiration, there are different kinds of clutter in our lives -- not just objects but obligations, habits and, yes, people. "People can be just as de-energizing and draining as piles of newspapers and magazines," she writes. "If there's someone in your life who drags you down whenever you see her...maybe it's time to reconsider the relationship." Granted, sometimes a complete break isn't an option. If that's the case, Grufferman advises figuring out a way to minimize the amount of time you spend together. When it comes to shedding objects, she suggests that after we pick the treasures we want to keep, we decide what to give away, sell, recycle, or donate and then do it. Grufferman is talking about detoxifying and downsizing, key guiding principles of the green movement. She allows that this is a lifelong quest, and I know it won't always be easy for me. But if it helps make the rest of the ride I started in Greeley, Colorado, that much smoother, it will be worth it. How are you decluttering your life? photo: karl sinfield