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The BIG, Fat Suitcase

It was a heavy suitcase stuffed full of clothes, shoes and make-up that finally brought me to my senses. Yes, I took the heaviest suitcase in the world to China and back, literally.

On 31st December 2019, I boarded a plane bound for Chengdhu, China. I was anxious, excited and had a tummy full of nerves. I was also worried about the weight of my suitcase and wondered how I would cope lifting it and pushing it around.

During the day leading up to the departure to the airport, I meticulously chose items of clothing I would wear during the trip, taking into account all of the presentations I was going to do, the dinners I would attend and the teaching I would be doing. In addition, I had 30 protein bars stashed as I was nervous about eating foreign food like chicken feet, jellied duck blood and pigs throat.

When I zipped my suitcase up, with minimal time to spare to travel to the airport, I knew it was too heavy. I frantically re-opened it and threw out a few items I thought I could travel without but it barely made a difference to the weight. I should have known better. But my red brain over-rode my common sense and I zipped it up and took it anyway.

Big, big mistake.

The bag became heavier as I travelled. The Chinese people are renowned for their generosity and I received a lot of beautiful gifts and extra weight! I'm not talking light consumables either, but hand woven silk pandas in big ornate wooden frames. It got to the point where I dreaded being gifted anything I couldn't eat or drink. (How ungrateful is that?)

Each time I lifted the suitcase onto a security belt for scanning I cursed, first the bag for being so heavy, and then myself for being so foolish. My moment of shame came when the company I travelled with had to pay a lot of extra money just to get my bag on a domestic flight.

The bag became a big, fat metaphor for my life. It was full of stuff I didn't need and stuff I wanted to let go of. I knew I needed to make changes.

Lying in the many hotel beds along the trip, I made a promise to myself that I would never travel like that again and that when I got home I would make some serious changes in my life.

When I finally did arrive home and unpacked the suitcase, I was shocked at how many clothes I owned. As I started to put them back on the racks I vowed to make changes.

I needed to simplify not just my clothes but my entire life. This revelation became a revolution for me and continues to be so today.

Simplifying is a process. I am 7 months into my journey and it feels like I'm only getting started. Each week I face a little more and then a little more. I started with clothes but it has grown into simplifying everything from my inbox to my kitchen drawers. Each time I take another boot load to Hospice or throw a bag in the skip, I feel a little lighter.

I can promise you that simplifying is worth it. Having more outer order in my life has definitely led to more inner calm. I never thought a perfectly ordered linen cupboard would bring me so much joy, but it seriously does.

How do we end up with so much stuff?

During my initial efforts to de-clutter I reflected on how we all end up with so much stuff. I have come to the following conclusions about why we have come to accumulate so many items.

Some stuff is given to us; as heirlooms, gifts at Christmas or birthdays or as gifts from friends at work. This has definitely been the case with my occupation - I work in a school and on an occasion like Easter or Christmas I get loads of cups, candles, drink bottles, trinkets and soap.

Through shopping and purchasing goods; we see something that we think we will use, wear or need, with the intention to beautify ourselves or our home. Good examples are lamps, coasters, pictures for the wall, a fancy new utensil for cooking or an extra cushion for the sofa.

As souvenirs - when we travel we purchase little things to remind us one day that we were once there. They might be little ie; a magnet or a postcard, but they're still clutter.

Conned through advertising; advertisements pop up constantly on our screens telling us that we need that product to; be healthier, look younger or make our life easier.

I've fallen prey to this trap MANY times. I'm especially vulnerable to ads on getting rid of under eye bags claiming to 'reduce the look of ageing'.

For future - just in case: even if we don't need it right then, we might need it soon. An example of this is my purchase of a vegetable spiralizer last year. I had grand visions of making courgette pasta. It took me 2 months to use it and it's such a hassle to set up and wash (yes 1st world problem and yes, a bit lazy) that I dislike using it.

To solve problems; the recipe book (hello healthy new meals), the exercise bike (hello healthy new body), the juicer (hello healthy new fasting plan), all items purchased with the best of intentions and plans to improve my life.

It was so cheap! Compared to 50 years ago things are relatively cheaper and easier to purchase (hello store credit cards). The invention of the $2 shop was the downfall for the clutter junkie.

Hard to part with: some items that cause clutter are very special and are hosts for deep emotions. The jewellery box my Dad gave me when I was three, my Nana's velvet purse, the cards my Mum has written to me for 46 years on my birthday, my old school books that remind me of wonderful times gone by. Sometime we hold on to things because we can't let them go.

Storing other people's crapola!

Sometimes we have to store other people's stuff due to them shifting, being overseas, or them not having space in their own homes!

We can feel overwhelmed and burdened with our messy work spaces, bulging cupboards, over filled drawers, piles of clothes and junk drawers. It can drain our energy and our time. Each time we look at it, we know that we need to get it sorted but it just feels too big. Sometimes it feels too emotional too.

Physical clutter leads to mental clutter. It's a constant reminder that something needs to be done; to be cleaned, cleared, sorted, organised, put away, fixed or folded.

So where and how do you begin?

Next week I'll share some small, manageable steps on how you can get started with simplifying.

#leadership #leadsmartwithheart #declutter #simplify

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