Joy and tchotchkes

Joy, gratitude, bliss.

All are interconnected.

We live in a small house and raised twin boys in it. When it was time to move to a bigger house, we looked around our cottage in the city and announced that we were already living in our retirement home – the very same small home that we have called our cottage since our babies were born. So we stayed put.

Like many people I have surrounded myself with things that give me joy. When I walk into any room in our home, I am blissfully happy and content – just by looking at the photographs of trips we’ve taken or art bought from local street vendors, furniture that I have found at auction sales and have refinished or restored, and objects such as vintage vases that I fill weekly with the flowers that my husband buys at the local market every Saturday. (When my son got married, I gave him one piece of advice only: Buy flowers for your wife – often.)

I have learned that when I enter a room filled with items that I cherish, a calmness and tranquility comes over me and soon afterwards I feel a rush of gratitude. That gratitude leads to bliss. I feel a loving energy in every room of our home. My awareness and mindfulness of that loving energy leads to more gratitude – our home becomes a true haven for our family because that energy supports us and comforts us. But it begins with the awareness of where I am.

So when my sister told me about this life-changing book about cleaning that she had just read, I was skeptical.

We were sitting at a table in a favourite restaurant enjoying burgers and beers when she announced that her whole way of cleaning had changed her life and given her back…joy!

I raised an eyebrow. My husband burst out laughing and spilled his beer. My sister was not a clean and clutter-free kind of gal. Nope! I got that gene from my mother, not her.

“The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up (the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing) by Marie Kondo has helped me not only clean house and declutter, but it has opened my mind and my spirit,” she announced.

Well, even though I was pretty sure that I could not learn anything new about cleaning house, she got me at the “open mind” part of her statement.  But once I had thought that I was pretty sure that I couldn’t learn anything new about cleaning house, then… well, I just contradicted all of my intentions for 2015 about how an open mind can free up our creativity and potential for growth and expansion.

So I borrowed the book and opened it to peruse the chapter titles…

Really I was just fooling myself. I was not being open-minded: I was looking for evidence! Evidence that I already did all this decluttering, organizing stuff; evidence that I already cleaned house in a superior manner; evidence that I did not need this book. (Damn it, my house already gives me joy.)

The chapter entitled Komono: Keep things because you love them – not “just because” caught my eye. Synchronicity, again.

My mom died nearly one year ago and so lately it has occurred to me that I should be sorting through the boxes of tchotchkes from her home. My mom had a lot of tchotchkes around the house because unlike Marie Kondo (the author of said-mentioned book) my mother saved anything and everything that people gave her – books, key chains, greeting cards, postcards, statues from travels, salt and pepper mementos. Like many grandmothers, she had saved useless Christmas gifts that the kids had given her when they were preschool age…some school projects were now torn or dried out;  while some items were just plain hideous. (Did I help my kids buy these items? Was I high that shopping trip?) Her dressers were filled with unopened boxes of gloves, scarves, and woolen hats that she had never worn, but kept in their original packaging. And boxes…that were empty. She saved those, too. For some reason, I was now the keeper of this stuff.

Well, I am not a knickknacky type of collector. In fact, up until a couple of years ago when I deliberately made the intention that I would not judge people by the crap that they collected (Ha! A lot of judgment in that statement, huh? My meditation teacher would not be happy with my lack of growth.), I could not walk by a front garden full of gnomes and plastic flowers without cringing. Now with all my growth (ha!) I can walk by such gardens and just smile. Whatever floats your boat, right?

Well, it is time to release my mother’s tchotchkes, according to the KonMari technique (author’s name spelled backwards) and this particular chapter on mementos will tell me how to do it, joyfully (apparently).

Take everything out of the boxes and place them on the floor. Now, one at a time, pick up the items and hold them, and only if they give you joy or pleasure, return them into the box to be kept. The rest, my friends, will go to the charity shop or the trash. Well, that’s the difficult part. Who wants to give a shiny, three-inch plastic flower-pot that wiggles when you pick it up to the trash can? Did my mother like this flower-pot? Did she pick it up and laugh? Or, did someone dear to her give it to her? (My sister denies it was her.) Nevertheless, this pink plastic flower-pot is in perfect condition. Plastic just doesn’t die!

In the spirit of the KonMari technique, and because my sister nags me every day, I am going to give it a try. I am going to release the flower-pot that wiggles!

Thanks to the author, I realize now that my mother’s possessions did not give me joy – I was only storing them out of guilt. I feel such freedom. Plus, my closets are now spacious.

Decluttering or simplifying our home, according to the author, is the first step to simplifying our life. When we clear away stuff, we free ourselves. Apparently her technique works as once she teaches clients how to organize their homes, her clients continue to practice her techniques – they live clutter-free forever. More significantly, they learn to release old habits and old thoughts, as well as letting go of stuff.

To me, that sounds pretty spiritual. Letting go of things that no longer work for me; letting go of ideas and thoughts that do not serve me or support me; simplifying life so that I can pay attention to what does serve me – my family, my friends, my home, my garden, my volunteer work. A simplified life frees me to spend more time doing things that give me joy, activities that increase my creativity, that expand my awareness and support my growth.

When I catch a glimpse of the red cardinal in our cobalt blue bird bath, I feel joy.  When I have more time to just sit with a hot tea in my hands, watching the autumn leaves fall from the maple tree at the corner of our yard, I am grateful for the simplicity of my daily life. My life is simple because I have chosen this life. I choose to be mindful of what gives me joy. And letting go of chaos and clutter are life-changing choices, also.

As young people we don’t understand why our parents give away their possessions, or why our parents refuse birthday gifts or return them later. As young people we spend a lot of time collecting stuff, not refusing it or giving it away. But as we grow older, as we grow in self-awareness, it becomes unnecessary to keep collecting, to keep buying…and for those who are ill or dying, they learn very quickly that it is not stuff they want, it is precious time that they crave now: Time to spend with loved ones, time to spend doing whatever inspires joy, and time to reflect on a life well-lived.

Often I repeat something that I learned many years ago…something that I heard again when I took a palliative course two years ago: When we are dying, we never cry out that we wished we had spent more time at work or more time making money to buy more things. Because when we are dying, we are just grateful for the love that surrounds us. In the end, love is the only thing that matters.

On my window sill over the kitchen sink I have a few beloved tokens: three Buddhas with their hands stretched out in loving kindness and generosity, my mother’s ring (which I wear with love always), my gratitude stone, and a tiny porcelain teapot, pink roses on the front, and inside the teapot are two tiny mice, each holding a cup of tea. The tiny, difficult-to-read inscription says,  Mother and Daughter.

This tchotchke gives me joy. All of the other stuff, I let go.



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