Durga Tool #2: Empty space, as symbolized by trash bags

Here’s the second in what will certainly be a belabored series on tools that inspire me as a special needs parent to live with joy, courage and compassion, as inspired by the Hindi goddess Durga.

As the Big Brother Big Sister Donation truck drove off with several enormous bags of my stuff yesterday, I realized that I’ve a developed a bit of an addiction over the past few months to the delicious rush of the feeling of spaciousness – physical, mental, psychological and spiritual – that comes from picking an area of my home and then giving a ruthless “buh-bye” to anything I don’t love, need or want contained within it. After decluttering a drawer, a shelf or a closet, I can return for days to gaze at the generous capaciousness, not just the controlled order of the things, but the blank space between the things that reside there.

Years ago as an art history student, I attended a lecture by an artist who said her aesthetic had completely changed after she became a mother. The delightful sense of control she felt when looking at a pure, unadulterated stretch of her kitchen counter or silverware precisely nestled in its dividers shaped her own work over time. Her canvases, once full of heaving Baroque forms and manic Rococo swirls, now revealed becalmed expanses of open landscape. At the time I was a pre-Raphaelite devotee, enchanted by claustrophobic layers of symbol and allusion. Her revision to her own artistic output seemed a little, well…sterile. Twenty years later, let me just say this: Lady, I totally get you.

So why this 180? After spending most of my twenties and thirties earning money to acquire things and a house to display them in, lately I have a real appreciation of having less stuff. Having less stuff means having less stuff to pick up, clean, nag others to put away, resent others for when they don’t. Less stuff to distract. Less stuff to cramp my style during my dance parties with the kids. Less stuff to block the sunlight from pouring into the room.

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,” said English art critic and designed John Ruskin. Using Ruskin as my de-cluttering buddy has sometimes left me with remarkably little to work with. I got rid of so many undesirable, odd-ball plates and glasses that for several months I couldn’t fill the dishwasher before needing to run it. Maybe I took things a little too far, but so far there’s nothing I’ve regretted parting with.

Having less stuff gives ample opportunity for two other valuable practices for me as a special needs parent.

The first is trust – trust that I can let go of things I don’t need right at this moment, and the Universe will provide for me if and when I need it again. Practicing get rid of things that I “just might need some day” with the faith that something better will come along later on is a great antidote to the Terror of Scarcity which can cripple me at times.

The other practice de-cluttering helps me with is letting go. With each thing placed in the “Donate” box, I practice letting go of the need to cling to any one thing. I practice letting go of the need to fill every little nook and cranny in my home and my mind with shiny distractions. I practice letting go of what others think I should like and enjoy. I practice letting go of who I was and who I wanted to be as embodied by countless unfinished projects and long-ignored stuff, making room instead for dancing, sunlight and the person who I have become.

Published by Cristin Lind

Facilitator, consultant, speaker for better health and care through patient-professional partnership. Passionate about helping change agents build courage and agency. She/her.

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  1. I hope I can reach the unencumbered level you are at now. Eight months later I am still unpacking my apartment. I have jettisoned a lot already, but more needs to follow.

  2. I think the trick is to be at peace with the fact that it’s a continual process; I’m never done. It’s more like layers, and with each pass of de-cluttering it gets easier to shed some stuff. But it’s totally worth it, so set aside time to do it if you can.

  3. I totally loved this blog about the joys of making some empty space. When you wrote of returning “… for days to gaze at the generous capaciousness, not just the controlled order of the things, but the blank space between the things that reside there,” I thought of the tree behind our house on the farm. This spring I finally got someone to help clear out all the brush underneath and low hanging dead branches. For days I would stand there and admire its newly visible shape and the space for light and air underneath. I particularly liked your last two paragraphs about trust and letting go, to make room for “dancing, sunlight and the person who I have become.”

    When I moved north nearly 20 years ago I got rid of a lot of “stuff” from the first 50 years of my life. But it accumulates again and again. You blog inspires me to tackle it once again because I need more room for dancing.

    1. Sorry for the delayed reply. I loved yours. I get what you mean about the tree. It’s funny how things can affect us on such subtle levels. Let me know how your decluttering goes. It’s time for me to do another round!

      My father passed away this winter and I suddenly found that I couldn’t part with anything, regardless of whether it had to do with him or not. It was as if my declutter radar got turned off. I think it’s back on again, though it’s very difficult to make decisions about his things, so I’m putting them aside and I’ll have to give it some time. Again, just a curious revelation between our emotions and our “stuff.”

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