• author
    • Debra DeAngelo

    • December 28, 2013 in Columnists

    It’s the time of year to let go

    It’s that lame duck time of year. Christmas is over, the new year is yet to begin, and there are still piles of wrapping paper and empty boxes to pick up — and the recycling bin is conveniently stuffed to the hilt, so the piles will remain as testament to my lack of energy at this time of year.

    Evidence of precious time with loved ones dot the house — extra blankets here, a left-behind sock there, an abundance of towels in the laundry pile. That makes it difficult to dive in and undeck the halls. So I won’t. I’ll deal with it next year, which, of course, is staring me right in the face.

    I’m not ready to face a new year.

    Or, maybe I’m too ready.

    It changes from moment to moment.

    As the new year approaches, I feel compelled to get rid of things — an impulse that horrifies my inner hoarder. I still have blue jeans from high school that will never, ever fit me again, and jars of spices three years out of date, and baubles and trinkets and whatnot (lots of whatnot) that I can’t seem to discard. I pick something up, and it reignites the memory attached to it (faded blues/nostalgia) or the plans I had for it (gingerbread/hope) or simple clinging (could it be Christmas just one more day), and the real, imaginary or symbolic value makes me stuff it back in a drawer again.

    I still have jars with my kids’ baby teeth in them, people.

    Oh, it’s much worse than that.

    I have a jar with my own.

    And then I married someone with his own collections of junk that are meaningful only to him and look like garbage to everyone else. Just try to set a spoon down anywhere in our house without having to stack something else. Just try.

    It’s hit critical mass. My house, my life, and my head need de-cluttering.

    The first step is awareness, right?

    Wait, no.

    Step One: Admitted we were powerless over clutter; that our lives had become unmanageable.

    So, that’s my plan for 2014. Letting go of internal and external clutter. What things aren’t serving me well? What things can I, albeit reluctantly, pry my physical or symbolic fingers from and discard? To do it all at once is overwhelming and psychologically impossible. So, I have a strategy: get rid of just one thing each day that A) no longer serves me well or B) causes me active distress or C) is merely taking up space and compounding the “critical mass” issue.

    Just one thing. And, even a tiny thing will count. Like my daughter’s dried out felt pens, that remind me of her back in high school, in braces and pajama pants, concentrating on her drawing. When I see the pens, I see her. Throwing them all out at once feels like throwing away the memory. So, maybe one pen at a time. Maybe one pen cap at a time. It will still count.

    Professional organizers insist that you can hold onto memories, and let go of the things. This is only partially true. It assumes that you can remember anything you want, any time you want, and easily call up any memories on demand. At 54, that’s an awfully big “given.” Past 50, your brain doesn’t just spontaneously generate cherished memories. I mean, how do you even know what you want to remember? When you pick up your son’s baby shoes, see your husband’s handwriting scrawled across an empty red envelope that once held a sweet, sentimental Valentine — that’s when the memory pops up.

    If I discard these things, will I ever remember to remember them again? Clearly, I’m already forgetting some things, in contrast to my children, who have total recall of my every shortcoming. Who is this whack-job B-List mother of whom they speak? My memory is that, all things considered, I did a pretty decent job. I most certainly did a better job than my own parents. A quantum leap better. I’m also certain that I did the best I could with the abilities I had at that moment in time. Trouble is, your best can fall short in someone else’s eyes.

    Regrets… I have a few…

    Sing it again, Frank.

    But… regret no longer serves me well and actively causes me distress and is merely taking up space and compounding the critical mass of crap inside my head. I want to discard regret, but it’s a little trickier than tossing out felt pens.

    I know that the first step of regret is giving yourself a break for your shortcomings — reminding yourself that, okay, although it was a great effort, sometimes in life, the effort/result ratio is less than optimal. This is a fact. I could try and try and try to be a ballerina or a mathematician or an opera singer, and the effort will always outweigh the result on a massive scale. It just ain’t gonna happen. I recognize that going forward. But recognizing it in reverse still pinches.

    Maybe you have to acknowledge your shortcomings before you can forgive yourself for them. So, here goes:

    Dear kids, I regret my parental shortcomings more than you could possibly know (until you have children of your own). I wish I could have a do-over, and go back and right every single wrong, and whisk away every tear. But I can’t. I can only go forward and do the best I can do, with the abilities I have, at this moment in time.

    Regret. It’s a tether that keeps you looking backwards instead of forwards. It keeps my eyes on the rearview mirror instead of the road ahead. I need to let go of it.

    I’ll start with felt pens.

    Baby steps, people, baby steps.


    • On my list for today, even before I read this column, strip my closet of things I don’t wear and give them to a charity. Is it the influx of new things at Xmas or the new year or the fact that I gave myself a week break from writing. Don’t know. Don’t care. Out!

      • Maybe it IS the new things… and where to put them? And… I don’t want to write at this time of year either! I just want to feel the Christmas cookies turning into thigh fat. :/

      • Madgew

      • December 28, 2013 at 1:22 pm
      • Reply

      Baby steps. I gave my sons all the stuff I still had of theirs. They came out with wives or alone and we went through it. They threw away almost all but a few things that were special to them. Shipped it all back to them and recycled or threw out everything else. I always purged my own self so the rest was easy. Good luck. If you need help I will fly up and help you. My forte and have done this for lots of friends.

    • It helps to take pictures of what you’re going to toss/pass to someone else. 🙂

      • Maya North

      • December 29, 2013 at 1:01 am
      • Reply

      Oh, baby steps of regrets. First thing I decided to do, once I recovered my brain after losing my brother at age 35 and miscarrying my long awaited son at 15 weeks was to endeavor to stop generating regrets. As a parent who made horrible mistakes (sometimes knowingly — I have to be honest — sometimes I wasn’t my best and literally just indulged gawdawful me), I have HUGE, heart-shattering regrets that bring me to my knees. I blessed well OUGHT to have them — personal responsibility. What I’ve learned not to do with them is allow them to get in the way of the loving, amazing relationship my daughter and I have now. Neither she, nor I, nor the regrets, deserve that.

      As for stuff — I’m looking into getting a Rubbermaid storage shed (costs about $700, I think), as a place to put things in between having them underfoot and letting them go. However, the knowledge that you, too, are a clutterbug makes me feel I would be extremely comfortable visiting your house. I’d feel right at home.


      • I don’t have huge shattering regrets. There’s no Big Thing I did wrong. It’s more just cruising along at a constant B+ level… I wanted to be an A+… but, I am a B+ parent. As a student, I HATE to get anything less than an A. :/
        On the other hand… my own parents get a solid D. So, I have improved. But I wish I could have been an A.
        On the other other hand… I was essentially parenting alone. The kids’ father paid most of the bills, but other than that… zero participation. Worse than zero, actually… he made daily life a misery most of the time. If I’d had a supportive partner, I think I could have done better.

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