My first experience with de-cluttering a room was when Hannah was about eight years old. Only diagnosed with autism for two years we were thick in the throes of ABA with its intense therapy plan. We had a toy room that was then doubling as a therapy room. With its shelves filled with toys that Emily had played with, new toys purchased in anticipation that ‘this. will. be. the. toy. to. unlock. her’ and a sheet covering the intricate area rug so she would not be upset by its pattern. And when I say ‘upset’ I mean debilitating freak out. Who doesn’t have a toy room like this …?
With Hannah’s severe autism her symptoms included not playing appropriately with toys and lack of imagination play. She would maybe use parts of toys to either stack, pile or tap.
It was seemingly impossible to rid the room of any toys. “What if she one day plays with this?” “What if one day we need this for her program?” What if. One day. Phrases that can be debilitating in cleaning. It was becoming more and more apparent that these were more than just toys on a shelf. These were hopes and these were massive dreams that I was holding on to tightly and desperately. Every time I viewed the room I was haunted by the failure of this room. And it hurt. And it was crippling.
I suppose the practical side of me took over one day and I was able to pull up my big girl gitch (by now they have been pulled so high they are equivalent to a big girl thong) and asked for help from my Aunt and my Mom. They came over for the day to assist in the task. Make this toy room/therapy room appropriate for Hannah’s needs. Appropriate. No stuff disguised as dreams.
I was afraid I would feel pressure to toss items that I would want to keep however that is not how the day went. We started by emptying out the whole room. One big pile. Then we made sub-piles. One for “Keep”, one for “Remove from premises” and one for “I’m not sure”. The “I’m not sure” pile gave me permission to take a moment to either really think about the object or to grieve that this toy will not be played with. Appropriately.
As we categorized more and more into our sub-piles it became easier. By the end of the de-cluttering day the “I’m not sure” pile was easier to be placed into “Keep” or “Remove” and with a clear head I could practically and unemotionally decide. Empowering-o-rama. I owned the items. They (and there fake hopes and dreams) did not own me. The toy room/therapy room was re-organized with items that made sense and it looked wonderful. Aside from the sheet that covered the intricate patterned area rug. I was proud and grateful for the day.
Fast forward twelve years. So much has changed. Different home and different therapy room. Room filled with papers, data, chachki’s used to teach, token boards, toys, notes on the wall to remind tutors and more. But our wonderful formal ABA years were over. For awhile now. But the room stayed as it was. Like a mausoleum – an ode to ABA – do not disturb. “Maybe one day we’ll get another consultant”. “Maybe one day I’ll work more with her”. Maybe. One day. Mess. Debilitating. Crippling.
Pulled up those big girl thongs. Once again. This time alone and not in one day. Over time. But same technique. It was difficult. Seeing all the old tutor notes dating back to her first tutors. Remembering the group clinic meetings – the highs and the lows. Remembering how Hannah either hammed it up big time to show off or she was a complete shithead. (Usually she was uber-charming).
Again separating myself from the years of work. Lightening up the space and lightening up my soul. With each item placed in the appropriate pile it was accompanied with tears or smiles. And pride. Proud of all the work we all did for her. She would not be who she is without the ‘brain stretching’ we insisted on through ABA.
The room was complete. Items brought to the local MCC (our thrift store), recycle, shredder and the garbage. It was empty and it felt so good! So much better than unusable crap that weighed on my eyes and zapped energy from me each time I looked at it (yes I am a tad dramatic).
Now what to do with this empty room? I had to think about this one when it came to me. My Grandma passed away this past Spring and it left a huge hole in my life. Needless to say she was very special to me. I had wonderful memories of her from a young child to the day she passed. One thing that reminds me of her are red geraniums. Grandma was classy and always had the beautiful red geraniums on her front porch. When we got to visit their place we played outside and I always noted the red geraniums. I liked to take a petal or two off and was mesmerized how they left colour on the sideway. Long story short – red geraniums=fond memories of my Grandma.
So I’ve always grown red geraniums at my own home each summer. And lately I have been very interested in over-wintering them. With the helpful advice of our neighbor whose geraniums were years old I tackled the task. Cutting back geranium stems and potting them in smaller containers. Watering them just so – enough to keep alive. A few rows of them sit on a table by the window. The window by where the tutoring used to take place.
Now when I pass this room I am no longer crippled by the mass amount of useless stuff that is awaiting me. I walk past the room and see something that I love. Something that gives me life and something that will grow into beauty by spring. I’d say that is a pretty good trade off!
*This process of de-cluttering did not come easy or all at once. Many people have inspired me. Included in this inspiration is “the Minimalists”. Check out their podcast at www.theminimalists.com/podcast. *
Over wintering geraniums sitting where Hannah and her tutor once sat. And it’s okay.