Home > Family, Love, Parenting, Reflections > The imperfect art of letting go

The imperfect art of letting go

Last night I searched for a deleted post I couldn’t find.

I didn’t find that one, but I found another one that’s a perfect reminder for me this Mother’s Day.

To everyone out there ever, currently or someday to be a mother, in blood or in spirit, I wish a day that moves you a little closer to where you want to be.

I wish you at least a little letting go for the sake of at least a little letting in.

The imperfect art of letting go
Originally posted July 22, 2012

I gave up cleaning two years and a handful of months ago.

I was working full time, tending to my infant son when I wasn’t working, and adjusting to a commute that had doubled thanks to day care. I was writing or editing a little every day that I could muster the energy, which wasn’t often. My mom was dying, 1,000 gut-wrenching miles away.

Every evening, I’d lay my son down for his increasingly longer sleeping periods and I’d start cleaning. As I cleaned, I’d cry, and I’d cry, and I’d cry. No matter how much I did, there was always more to do. Always. I cursed myself for not having what it took to get on top of it.

One day I sat in front of my computer and thought, “This is what the beginning of a nervous breakdown must feel like.” That thought jarred me. Something had to change. But what?

20041103_0527_000I boiled my new life down into a few bullets:

  • Mothering
  • Work
  • Caring for my dog
  • Writing
  • Providing food for my family
  • Cleaning

To preserve what felt like an increasingly tenuous grip on sanity, at least one of these things had to go. Four of the six were essential; between the two that were not, writing and cleaning, there was no contest. Writing helped point me a direction I wanted to go. Cleaning had me running myself ragged for results I could barely even see, let alone feel any satisfaction from.

I vowed I’d do minimal tidying here and there, but only as I had the energy and the inclination. I wouldn’t devote a chunk of my time to it every evening. I wouldn’t make it a priority at all. I wouldn’t nag or cajole my sweetheart, Ba.D., who sadly didn’t even factor into my list at that point, or pay the tidiness of my house much mind. It was easier said than done, but with a few weeks of practice, I was a pro. I kept the house not horribly untidy, but it was a far, far cry from clean.

This was all well and good until recently, when I realized that my family has gotten sick much, much more frequently this year than ever before. With Ba.D. off working on a movie and my little fella spending the weekend with his grandma and great grandma, I saw my opportunity to clean up the apartment and I seized it.

I tore this place up. There are still some cupboards left to clean and some crannies to explore, but by and large, I have countered two years of indifference with a great deal of cursing and elbow grease.

It’s good to see my floor again–my actual floor, not layers of dog fur and dust that have concealed it for many moons–but there’s been some sadness, too.

Cleaning allows an opportunity for unearthing. I have unearthed many things. Some were sweet, such as a box of My Little Pony figures my mom sent me, photos that my friend Dana sent me from our last visit together before I became a mom, or the stack of zombie family decals another blogger sent me for my car some months ago.

Others felt more bitter: pacifiers, baby toys clutched by baby fists too tiny then to hold anything else, bottles and pump parts that occupied so much of my time for the first year of my son’s life. Holding each of those items and remembering the tiny baby I’d feared until the very moment my eyes landed on him, I couldn’t help crying again. Where did he go? How could that tiny, wordless baby be the opinionated almost three-year-old boy who only stops talking these days when he’s asleep?

As I cried, I did what needed to be done. I separated things no longer needed into trash, recyclables and items OK for donating.

Mostly. I cheated a couple of times.

I found the first eye make-up I bought, a two-tone eyeshadow in gold and brown. I’d bought it with my mom at Macy’s, where my mom had taken me to shop for my first dance, the winter formal for a sorority I’d join only briefly. My mom made me get a makeover by one of the L’Oreal ladies. I was so enchanted when I saw my post-makeover face, I had to buy something. Eyeshadow was that something.

I tossed it in the trash yesterday. I took only a couple of steps away before I swooped it back up and decided its time is not up. Not just yet.

Later, I filled my son’s baby bathtub with other items meant to leave this apartment. And yet, when the time came, I couldn’t imagine the thought of passing over the threshold with that whale-shaped tub. Li’l D still likes his whale rides,I told myself. This isn’t me not letting go. This is me helping him fly, while I still can.

Li’l D still does so love to be spun around in that silly tub.

So many artifacts passed from my hands and my apartment this weekend. So many artifacts no longer useful to me, or my family. Some of these things went out in the same bags as old food, soiled paper towels and broken knick-knacks. This seemed such an undignified fate for items once so essential. And yet, the convergence brought a kind of clarity.

I’m glad I stopped cleaning two years ago. I’m glad I prioritized between things that needed to happen and things that I could, for a time, let slide.

I’m glad I stopped the slide this weekend. For though tears have streamed almost endlessly down my face, revisiting items from years gone by reminds me how much I have lived. Every scrap of paper with a friend’s handwriting, every photo in which my face is smooshed up against someone else’s, every bottle I’ll never use again, the copy of Ghost that reminded me of the joy of realizing Demi Moore–an actress and woman I admire–had liked my page? They are all reminders of a life I have done my best to live as fully as I could with what I knew at the time.

What I know now is that I can go two years without a serious cleaning, but that I don’t really want to. Because while I’m skipping out on the dust yetis and dishes, I’m also missing out on a chance to remember not only where I came from, but where I want to go, and why I want to go there.

Cleaning isn’t fun. Neither is crying. But there is catharsis in each, and my heart is lighter for having let go this weekend of things that might, if I am lucky, leave room for even better things.

  1. May 10, 2015 at 6:43 am

    I find various things have to go at different times in our life. We just can’t fit everything in. For example, perfect cleaning, playing the piano, updating scrapbooks, writing, and probably a zillion other things. It’s difficult to not feel guilt at the time, but eventually life reshuffles and we find the opportunity to revisit some of the things we abandoned. Which reminds me, I need to get to those scrapbooks soon…

    Happy Mother’s Day!

    • May 10, 2015 at 6:57 am

      Truth! Right now I do even less cleaning now than I did then; with an additional child, 90+ minutes of drive time and a husband gone even more often, that’s a choice I make to (necessarily) preserve a little quiet time for recuperation in the evening. It’s not enough, but the little I do get is imperative to keep me going. Looking at this post was a great reminder how much I’ve grown with the change in my life. If I feel a little off balance still, it’s hardly surprising! I’ll get to finding my balance again, same as I did when I wrote this post in a more time-expansive place. 🙂

      Happy Mother’s Day, with or without the scrapbooks!

  2. May 10, 2015 at 6:47 am

    Lovely thoughts to read, once again. I bought my first eye-shadow palette with my mum, it made me sad to read that because I will always think of her when I use it (still use it, don’t know if that is sanitary or not, although it is only a year old). Prioritising love and care and happiness for cleanliness is certainly a good thing. I personally despise a messy/dirty home but I came from one, and my mother never prioritised cleaning, but she gave us an excellent educational and solid grounding in all things that mattered. I am sending you some warm thoughts for a life well-lived and a love well-cherished. ❤

    • May 10, 2015 at 7:02 am

      My mom’s house was a disaster, and I swore I’d never let mine be like that! I did a fantastic job of that while I was living solo. My house was bare and easy to clean.

      Then, moving in with a partner whose instinct is to fill every empty space with more junk–erm, “new stuff,” I mean–I realized I was either going to have to spend a heckuva lot of time nagging him to keep organized or trying to organize to free up space he’d just fill with something new. No, thanks!

      Now, I’m happy if the dishes and laundry are more or less done-ish.

      The good news is a big cleaning is coming up soon. After that’s done, we’re going to hire cleaners to help with upkeep neither of us have time nor energy for right now.

      (It makes me giggle typing “right now.” Not sure when that’ll change!)

      I love how you close off your comment, noting what wasn’t there (cleanliness) but also what was (education, grounding in other things). And I mirror back to you your sweet, thoughtful wishes! ♥

  3. May 10, 2015 at 7:55 am

    This post made me cry. I absolutely can identify. Not enough hours in the day. My house is now a cluttered mess, no matter how many dishes I wash, there’s always a pile on the counter. there is always something in the washer to be put in the dryer…clothes to fold, dirty pile waiting to be washed. My toilets are disgusting no matter that I just put Comet in there. I have kept the expensive eye shadow from my wedding make-over. (it’s 12 years old now- older than my son) I just recently went through a couple of boxes and stacks of things we had.. and decided to make binders for the kids of their classroom awards, photos of their classmates and teacher, etc. Some of these things are 5 years old! So much clutter to go through in our tiny condo, but there is something special about it as I divide items going to GoodWill, trash, etc. and I discover baby pictures that are print copies vs. digital. And (2) pics of myself in Kinder and 1st – basically the only pics of me from childhood. Simultaenously making me sad and happy. I get you. Hugs.

    • May 10, 2015 at 8:11 am

      I only have a second now, but I wanted to send a bunch of hugs your way right now. Big, big, big hugs. ♥

  4. May 10, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Awesome! Happy Mother’s Day

  5. May 10, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Happy Mothers Day. I loved this, loved it because I get it. I have closets that store decades of memories. Some day in the future I will unbox my father, my mother and myself. Not today, but someday. I have sea chests that hold the memories of my sons, some day in the future I will begin to sort them out, some day but not today.

    The debris of a life lived well, it will wait. ❤

  6. May 10, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    Purging the [cuss] that weighs us down can be utterly uplifting. But sifting through the trinkets that bring to mind such sweet memories, knowing that this sorting will still end in separation, is always tough stuff. It helps me to remember that stuff is simply stuff. It’s the memory, the feeling that I want to keep. I can choose to let go of the stuff and carry on appreciating the memories and the sweet emotions they rekindle.

  7. May 11, 2015 at 7:54 am

    I remember this post – it is so true. I have a hard time letting go of “stuff” because of the emotional attachments.

    We have to cut ourselves slack on our monstrous to-do lists. Being perfect shouldn’t even be a goal when you’ve got two small kids. All you need to aim for is reasonable sanitation so the Health Dept doesn’t shut you down.

  8. May 12, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Beautiful! Thank you, Catie

  9. May 22, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    You did good.

  1. September 26, 2015 at 7:32 pm

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