Monday, April 11, 2016

Decluttering My Life by Nola Passmore



I walk into my home office and sit in front of the computer.  Everything I need is at my fingertips—neatly arranged trays containing current work, drawers housing stationary items in nifty little containers, a filing cabinet with everything sorted into sensible categories, and a bookshelf that would put the Dewey Decimal System to shame. Then the alarm clock goes off and I shake myself out of my dream. Dang! My office is actually the one in the picture above.  At least I had the good sense to move the bra off my desk before taking the photo!

As you can imagine, having an office like this doesn’t lead to an efficient writing life.  I know the old adage about ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’, but that assumes you actually have a spare spot where you can shove things as you find them.  I have no spare spots.  I have cupboards and bookshelves that have overflowed onto every available surface, like a lava flow from a volcanic eruption. 

I started sorting, with a view to throwing things out and making room.  But that’s when I hit another snag.  What do you do with a Super Bunny toy someone knitted you twenty years ago?  Where do you file a letter that gives instructions for your TV appearance on Jeopardy in 1976?  Should I keep the piece of embroidery I started in 1990 and never finished?  Where do I begin?



Over the last few months, God has shown me that my problem isn’t primarily one of being messy or lazy.  Okay, well maybe a little bit messy and lazy.  It also isn’t the result of being overly materialistic.  It goes deeper than that.  Why do I hang onto these things in the first place?

Two books have had a huge impact on me as I’ve navigated these issues.  One is Bill Hybel’s book Simplify.  As he notes, ‘simplified living requires more than just organizing your closets or cleaning out your desk drawer.  It requires uncluttering your soul.’ (p. 3)  Whether it’s taking control of your schedule and finances, making peace in your relationships, or finding work and recreation activities that feed your God-given passion, a simplified life enables you to become the person God intended you to be. 

However, as much as I love Hybels’ book and highly recommend it, I found I was still thinking of decluttering as a set of steps to be followed.  The message had gotten into my head, but not fully into my heart.  That changed when I read Lessons in Letting Go by Australian comedian Corinne Grant.  It’s a memoir that details how she developed a hoarding addiction, hit rock bottom, and eventually took back control of her life.  ‘Well this will be a bit of fun,’ I thought.  ‘She’s a comedian after all.’  I wasn’t expecting it to hit me between the eyes.

She talked about how she’d emotionally booby-trapped her house with things that didn’t reflect who she was or who she wanted to become.  I could relate to that.  I’d kept a lot of memorabilia of good times, but had also held onto things that weren’t good for me due to a mix of misplaced nostalgia, wanting to please others, and not being able to move on from regrets … and that’s just for starters.

After a day of sightseeing in a barren, Middle-eastern country, Grant offered this reflection:

… a part of me wanted to know what it would feel like to live in a place as empty as that all the time.  I imagined my flat back in Australia completely empty. No more hoarding, no more stuff, nothing there but me.  And I imagined myself, fearless in the face of regret, fearless in the face of what other people thought of me.  I lay on the bed and listened to that little voice deep inside me as it whispered, ‘Go on, jump’. (p. 166) 

That really resonated with me.  I’m not the same person I was thirty or forty years ago.  I don’t want to be the school kid who hardly answered any questions on Jeopardy because she was afraid to buzz in quickly and be heard.  I don’t want to be the Uni student who shoved her poetry collection in a drawer because a close friend didn’t think it would be published.  I don’t want to be the person who steers clear of certain topics in her writing because it might upset some friends and relatives.  I want to be able to jump fully into the life God has for me.

So, as I’m cleaning out my office, I’m also trying to let God clean out my heart.  To date, I have one tidy bookcase, two organised drawers, and one shelf in my cupboard that proves I never have to buy another notebook as long as I live. The heart stuff might take a little longer.  Just as well we’re all ‘works in progress’.



And for the record, I kept Super Bunny, took a digital photo of my Jeopardy letter before tossing the original in the bin, and donated my half-finished embroidery to my craft-maven mother.

What about you?  Are there things holding you back from being the writer God wants you to be?  I’d love to hear your stories.




Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 150 short pieces published, including devotionals, true stories, poetry, short fiction, magazine articles and academic papers.  She and her husband Tim have their own freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish.  You can find her writing tips blog at their website: http://www.thewriteflourish.com.au


24 comments:

  1. I read Corinne Grant's book awhile ago and wrote about it here:
    http://abooklook.blogspot.com.au/2010/12/book-review-lessons-in-letting-go.html

    I actually met Corinne when she was a teenager in Corryong. Her book made me think about my tendency to hoard books.

    My break through moment came when I was explaining to a friend that I couldn't give away the books that had changed my life even though I knew I wouldn't read them again. He said, 'If you gave them away they might change someone else life.'

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    1. Hi Susan - I forgot about the connection you had to Corryong. I liked the bit when she went back to help clean out the family home and ended up coming back to her flat with a carload of more memorabilia. It was interesting to read of her journey.

      And I like your tip about books. I tend to hold onto Christian books in particular in case I ever need to refer to them when writing or giving a talk. But some of them haven't been opened for 10 years and it would be better to bless someone else with them. Thanks for that.

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  2. Nola, I felt like shouting 'Bravo!' when I finished reading your post and especially cheered when I read the sentence, 'I want to be able to jump fully into the life God has for me.' What a great journey you are on with God--keep going!

    As for my own stories in this regard, they could fill a whole book--and have. Right now, I am again fine-tuning my second memoir, which will hopefully be titled 'Becoming Me: Finding my true self in God' which I hope will help others just as those other books you read helped you, Nola. Thanks for sharing with us all from your heart.

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    1. Thanks for that encouragement Jo. Will look forward to your new book. I came across Soul Friend the other day, and was thinking I could 'declutter' it by giving it to someone else who could be blessed. As Susan said, it's easy to hang onto books when they could be helping others. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Loved your post Nola. Thanks for making me start my Monday with a good belly laugh. Wish you'd left your bra in that picture - it would have added a certain touch to the picture! It's great you possess a writing den. I write in my family room with lots of noisy traffic (husband and son! :) ) passing behind me and around me so I love being home alone, to be able to concentrate on my writing.

    I was challenged to declutter my home a few years ago and it was a very wholesome exercise. The problem is that decluttered places get cluttered all over again, so one can't rest once it's done. It's an ongoing process.

    I have to say that it's always felt good to simplify my life. I've found I can hear God's voice better when my life is simpler. I have time to help others when my time isn't filled up (even if it's doing good things). Yep! I think you are onto a very profitable exercise, Nola. :) Well done on all you've achieved so far. I know you will soon have that kind of writing space you described in your first para before that alarm went off! :)

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    1. Thanks for that, Anusha. Tim and I are very lucky that we're each able to have our own home offices, but his is really neat and tidy! I really need to make better use of mine. And I had to move the bra or people would have thought, 'What's she doing with that old thing?' and someone might have suggested it go in the bin too!

      And thanks for the reminder that it's an ongoing process. I need to keep at it now I've started and not refill the spaces that are now tidy. Thanks for taking the time to comment and good luck with your own simplified life :)

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  4. Great post - mirrors the journey I've been on for the last two years in many respects. It is so freeing to ditch the clutter and focus on what is important!

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement Debbie. I've still got a long way to go, but it's nice to know others are on the same journey :) Take care

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  5. Hi Nola,
    I liked your review of Lessons in Letting Go, and now I'm even more intrigued to chase it up. It's true, so many of the things I'm holding on to belonged to a former self who moved on years ago. It sound like this might be the jump start I need to cut through all the old sentimentality. For example, I'm hoarding a whole series of old Trixie Belden books, and more Enid Blyton hard covers which have been taking up space for years. As my 'office area' is in a main thoroughfare room, similar to Anusha's situation, it adds up when five of us are doing the same thing.

    Others have been speaking highly of Marie Kondo's books too, which sound as if they may give similar advice. But as for keeping office spaces tidy, I wish paperwork didn't multiply like breeding rabbits!

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    1. Hi Paula - I was just thinking of my own Trixie Belden books recently, though I only have about 6 of them. Mum and Dad did a clean-up down in Brisbane a while ago, but I asked her to keep the Trixie Beldens. Now I'm wondering why? Some of my clutter is just adding to their clutter. Need to get onto it next time I'm down. (Though my 'Anne' books are a different matter).

      One helpful thing I found about Corinne's book is that she didn't advocate getting rid of everything, because it's good to have little mementos of happy times in your life, but you don't need twenty things to remind you of the same event when one would suffice. So using that re the Trixie Beldens, you could keep your favourite as a reminder and donate the rest. Or take a photo of the collection and then sell them as a complete set :) I haven't come across Mary Kondo - will have to check her out.

      And I know what you mean about paperwork. I'm trying to just keep more digital copies of things I don't need to look at all the time.

      Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Hi Nola, LOVED your post. I sit on the seesaw with this one. I want to de-clutter so badly but energetically it just is not feasible right now. And when I go through my items in my mind, I actually use ALL of it most the time.

    I've decided that it is a state of mind. I have in the past and could easily now also close the door on everything and never look back. I think that is the issue more than anything .. the attachment. I am only attached to people and the clutter .. nah maybe one day.

    I would love to live in a place with less clutter and yet I love my clutter and use it. When I look at your desk, that is my desk also and the desk of anyone else I know.

    Only executives in high-rises in movies don't have desks like ours.

    //I’m also trying to let God clean out my heart// Thank you Nola, me too.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that, Mimi. It is hard when we're emotionally attached to some of our things. We might know in our head that it's sensible to get rid of it, but that doesn't mean that our heart agrees. Corinne suggested starting with the easy things and working your way up. It took her about a year to let go of everything she needed to. I'm trying to do it just a bit at a time, even if it's only a few papers out of a box. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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  7. Thanks Nola for the prompt to get back to decluttering my stuff as well. I spent 8 years after my marriage broke up living with my sister whose husband had died. When my sister was moving into a retirement village she had to down grade from a large three bedroom house to a unit so I had to move too. I was working at the time and every time I went to get rid of stuff I didn't want to take with me and always do und all bins full to overflowing. I ended up taking everything with me with the intention of...well you know how,it is!!! It has taken me more than three years to get about a third of the decluttering done with the last few months of getting nothing at all done. It is a work in progress as you say just as I am - agree wholeheartedly that we must decluttering our minds as well ... Back to work Lesley, you have a long way to go!

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  8. Thanks for that Lesley. I can certainly relate to that. I think one of my problems is that every time I've moved, it's been in a rush, so everything has come with me. I have things in boxes I haven't looked at for years. I'm trying to just keep the ball rolling each week, even if it's just looking through one box or sorting out one pile of papers. It all adds up. Good luck with your own decluttering. Maybe we can check in with each other in a few months' time and see how we're both going?

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  9. Great post, Nola! There's nothing like living in three different states in three years to help the culling process. I hate the messiness that invariably follows a decision to move - you have to make messes in order to sort through the 'stuff' and expel it. (And although living in a remote community with very few shops helped change my 'collecting' mindset, it's amazing how things begin to build again).

    There's also nothing like living in three states in three years to add some baggage to the mind's clutter. ;) That kind of mind's clutter can sure be messy, too! But He works all things for our good, as we move toward being better reflectors of His Son, and so even the adding of some of the mind's baggage can then be especially refreshing as we slowly work through it and throw it away again. :)

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    1. Thanks for that Cate. I think one of my problems is that my last several moves have all been in Toowoomba, so it was easy to just keep taking everything with me. An interstate move would certainly help with the cull.

      And I know what you mean about the mind clutter. That can be harder to shift, but well worth it. God knows what he's doing. Funny that! Thanks for sharing :)

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  10. I can relate! I had tax records going back to 1984 at one stage. Not necessary at all. I love the phrase 'uncluttering your soul'. Your thought about the woman you once were and the woman you are now and the 'stuff' that exemplifies the stage of life is poignant. Great post!

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    1. Thanks Elaine. I think that's the thing that hit me most about Corinne's book. She made herself so vulnerable and I could relate to a lot of what she said. The bit about looking at your stuff and asking yourself whether it reflects who you are now and who you want to be really got to me. Am taking another box to Vinnie's this morning. Thanks for your comment :)

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  11. How true that our habits often represent issues of the soul that go far deeper. I'm a sentimental soul who finds great delight in revisiting fond memories, collecting (and keeping) historical information and other objects years old. Of course, most never see the light of day after the season of their relevance - except the memories, of course. My husband, on the other hand, is more wired to the 'store it up here' (tapping his head) approach. Oh the plus side, I do feel deep satisfaction when I've reclaimed/ decluttered a space. I just need to make a habit of prioritising that process in the busyness of life. (Usually I'll take time to get part way through a work space, and it's back to the treadmill of life.) You've made great in roads. Keep up the good work!

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    1. Thanks for that, Adele. It's great to have all of those mementos to remember good times in our lives, but I think one of my problems is that I'm too sentimental and keep way too much. I think our hubbyies are a bit alike in that way. Tim has no trouble throwing a greeting card in the bin after the occasion has passed, whereas I found tons of them in my cupboard. Am trying to think about what I really need. Maybe we could swap office spaces for a day and toss out each others' things? Now that would be scary! Thanks for sharing.

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  12. I am also in the process of 'decluttering'. I have a thought that after I die, my family may read some of my Christian books and come to know Jesus.
    I am trying to remember it is God who changes hearts and souls, not books....

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    1. LOL Rosie, I can relate to that. I imagine people coming to my house, borrowing a book and being forever changed. But there are some books that we haven't even opened in 20 years and our dinner guests haven't exactly been falling over themselves to borrow things. Probably better to give them to Lifeline where they can find themselves in the hands of someone who needs to read them :) Thanks for sharing.

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  13. Hey, Nola, I am so behind. I read your post while I was working on mine. It touched my heart. My Mac has been lifeless for over a week and so I have been (you guessed it) decluttering. I figured that after I die I don't want my in-laws seeing this mess and commenting what a pack rat she was. Tsk, tsk.

    I giggled about the notebooks. I too have a lifetime supply. Er, unless I see a cute one in the store and it calls to me. *wink* I loved this post.

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  14. I so relate to your post, Nola, and so need to clear out mess all around me. Thanks for the encouragement to do so.

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