"Mom. We have cleaned out all of the kitchen. So what will we clean out today?"
"The dining room is next."
"Maybe we should first have a cup of tea."
This conversation happened about a week into our 40 days of cleaning out our house. Was Wyatt starting to feel like it might never end? Or is that just how I feel about it? Either way, this is the third year of our annual clearing out, or as some people call it, purging. We started this practice in 2014 after I read a friend's Facebook post about the "40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge." The idea is that for the 40 days of lent, you get rid of one large lawn and leaf-sized garbage bag of stuff. I interpreted "get rid of" as meaning you throw it out, recycle, donate or sell the stuff, but the stuff doesn't actually have to leave your house every day. It can sit in the bags until you're ready to take it wherever it needs to go, but all of it has to be gone by Easter. That first year, we cleared out over four hundred of pounds of stuff, including lots of old books and magazines (I promise, we aren't hoarders—that stuff is just heavy), furniture we never used, old clothes, as well as standard clutter. I was so impressed/horrified by what we discarded that I kept a photo of a receipt for what we brought to Recology. When Easter came, I felt ridiculously virtuous for all we had accomplished, and I gleeflully shredded our progress chart detailing the areas we had cleared. I thought to myself, "Well! We won't have to do THAT again for a long time."
I was wrong, wrong, wrong. We are not Marie Kondo, and as hard as we try to keep things to a minimum, clutter happens and stuff finds its way into our house. Also, after that first massive clear out in 2014, I noticed the following spring that we hadn't touched some of the things we had decided to keep. So, when Ash Wednesday rolled around again, we started again. I let go of the one-giant-bag-per-day requirement, though, and just addressed one area of the house every day. If there was more time, I handled a bigger area. If there was hardly any time, I dealt with a drawer. And we got rid of probably about half as much stuff as we did the year before. Because two years amounts to a tradition, we're at it again this year, in the same way we approached the process in 2015.
We are not a religious family. But the period of lent really is perfect for taking stock of what we have versus what we need or want, and engaging in the giant, unenviable task of clearing things out. As a child, I was taught that lent was a time for reflection, and a time to give up something (like sweets), take on a charitable responsibility, or maybe be just a bit nicer to my little brother. Because "never" is not a reasonable option, I can't think of a better time than lent for clearing out stuff. With lent, you get a definitive start date, end date, and a good, long 40 days to complete the project.
But it's not an easy project. Marc and I have had more than a few grumbly words with each other about the whole process. We did the easy stuff two years ago. This year, we are moving through the entire house, area by area, looking at every item critically. If the stuff is mine, I ask myself a smattering of questions that help me to decide whether to keep an item: "Do I need it?" "Do I want it?" "Does it spark joy?" If the answer is yes to any of those, I keep the item. If the answer is no to all of those, it's out. If the answer is "no" to only one or two of the questions, sometimes I'll keep the item, and sometimes I'll toss it. And if the stuff is Marc's, he gets to decide what to do with it. The best part, though, is when I cross-examine Marc or he cross-examines me about a decision to keep an item. Like I said, this project isn't easy.
One of the reasons I hate this annual clear out is because it makes me face how my life has changed and how little progress I have made in reconciling myself to those changes. For example, I have innumerable pairs of fun and fancy shoes that I never, ever wear anymore, as well as lots of blank canvases and tubes of paint I haven't touched since 2011. And then there are well-crafted items I can't use but feel a bizarre responsibility to somehow repurpose, like ill-fitting hand knits and outdated cashmere sweaters from my grandmothers. I think it may be finally time to move on from some of this stuff.
A heartening aspect of this clearing out, though, is how Wyatt is taking to the process. For his stuff, he and I walk through his toys and books, one by one, and sometimes, he finds things he doesn't need or want anymore, which is great. He's also there as I clear out my own stuff. He loves discovering items he has never seen, and he's delighted that Marc and I are having to make decisions about what to keep. Lately, Wyatt has been going into my closet (which I have yet to address this year) to pull something out, like a handbag he has never seen me use. He'll ask, "Is this on your list to go out?" Sometimes, he asks because he hopes I'll keep it, and sometimes he asks because he sees no reason for me to have it. Either way, it's wonderful to see that he has enthusiasm for a task I loathe so much, and that he's thinking critically about what we have, what we need, and what we don't.