Addition by Subtraction
A cough that wouldn’t go away, episodes of vertigo, dizziness, wheezing, and not feeling like I could get enough air in my lungs—I spent more time not feeling well in 2020 than feeling well. None of this made any sense to me. I got good sleep, I ate well, and I was a health coach for goodness sakes (!), so why was I struggling so?
My head was full of mental clutter—I should clean the house, I should get more work done, I should exercise more.
I tried to keep going as if I were fine. At one of my lowest points, I couldn’t sit on a chair or I’d fall off due to dizziness. So for my client sessions, I’d place my computer on a low stool, sit on the floor and lean my back against the wall. Because any movement made me nauseous we’d keep our videos off while I’d listen and coach.
What was I thinking?
Why did I put so much pressure on myself?
A month ago we found out something that would completely alter our family’s course. After many months of hoping the symptoms would all go away on their own—and that I’d magically wake up whole again, I found out that I was being actively exposed to toxic mold.
Many people don’t react to mold—and while my husband Randy and our two boys were not affected, my symptoms now made sense. The mold was interfering with my body’s innate ability to heal. So instead of spending our winter holiday break camping in Arizona, we decided to use our vacation time differently. We stayed put in Colorado to go through all of our possessions and determine what was to stay and what was to go.
When you have mold, you have to remediate and the job is much easier to do in an empty house than one full of stuff.
And so we began.
Initially, our boys, 10-year-old Cole and 9-year-old Will were excited to go through and put their things in one of four piles—keep, donate, trash, or garage sale.
And then the massiveness of our project hit. They had tears, overwhelm and an escape to the clubhouse in our backyard. And then after giving themselves space to feel their feelings, they came back with renewed energy and a quiet calm to keep on going.
Personally, because I knew the longer I stayed in the house as it was, the longer I’d be sick, I didn’t allow myself to indulge in or be susceptible to the distraction of indecision.
How much time did I give myself to go through all my clothes—including my coats, purses and shoes?
What did I do with a rose-colored shawl that I had brought to our home 15 years prior when we made the move from Michigan to Colorado? In prior decluttering attempts I had always decided to keep it. It was beautiful. I had spent a lot of money on it. But it had been worn a total of zero times while in Colorado. So this time I asked myself, does it feel light or heavy that I’ve had this and haven’t worn it once? Heavy was my immediate answer and in it went into the donate pile finally free to have a better life than the one it had sitting unused in my closet.
If I had asked myself, do I like this shawl or will there be an occasion in the future where this shawl would be perfect or should I try to finally get my money out of it? I would have definitely kept it.
Asking myself the right question made the process so much easier.
I hit a sticking point when I started thinking about downsizing our plants. Plants make a house a home had been a thought living in my head for years. This thought felt like a fact and when I was told that we would have to get rid of our plants my heart filled with sadness. How will we create a warm space? A loving space? In the moment I had trouble seeing that it’s the people, not the things, that bring meaning to the home.
Surprised that I wasn’t trying to find a loophole, I put most of the plants on the front porch in the sun.
Then I sent a few messages to neighbors letting them know that if they wanted our greenery, it was theirs.
My sadness dissipated when I saw and heard the excitement of one neighbor as she picked up a pot saying, “I’ve always wanted this one!” Another neighbor came by and picked up a few more and at that point, there was no more heaviness, no more loss.
An hour later I got a clarifying message saying that we didn’t need to get rid of the plants after all.
Did I have the desire to rush to our neighbors to reclaim our plants? No! My heart was light as the few remaining plants waiting for new homes were my favorites. For years I had always looked at the other plants with some heaviness—I wanted to switch out their pots but hadn’t gotten around to it and instead of focusing on the beauty of the plants, I focused on not liking the pots. Now, all the plants that had pots I didn’t like were gone, and there was nothing left to do but to fully enjoy the remaining plants.
After a lot of sweat and some tears, our house was close to empty. The few things we were personally keeping or saving for a future garage sale were now in our storage shed.
Our secret? We asked ourselves the right questions and we didn’t stop. We pushed through the discomfort of decluttering knowing that a much lighter and healthier home would be on the other side.
If you ask me, I feel like we got rid of 80% of our things. But if you ask Randy, he’ll tell you that the number is closer to 5%. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Regardless, did I want to get rid of so much? Initially, no. The call to simplify doesn't always feel voluntary or fun. Removing so much can feel traumatic, but what feels even more traumatic is living in a space that doesn’t serve me. And if it doesn’t serve me, it doesn’t serve the family.
We subtracted a lot of material possessions from our life and financially we’ve taken a hit—but we've added game nights with cousins as my sister’s in Michigan as she and her family have temporarily taken us in, heart-to-heart conversations with Randy over Facetime as he stayed home to oversee the remediation and rebuild, and I’m quickly healing and finally feeling whole—my body is responding well to living in my sister’s mold-free home.
For my family 2021 is all about an intentional do-over. It’s about the potential that comes when you start over from scratch. Sure there are things we may miss, but we get to choose what we want to rebuild our lives with—and this time we’re deciding that less, is more.
We all experience bumps along the way. When your time comes, may you, too, see the lighter side of loss.