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Warmest regards: Clearing away life’s clutter

Published April 13. 2019 06:10AM

By Pattie Mihalik

I don’t know about you, but I often stop seeing things in my surroundings.

For instance, if I lay a stack of books on a shelf, I stop seeing them resting there.

I start seeing my house with new eyes only when company is coming or something compels me to take a good look.

One of the most used places in my house is the top of my desk. It tends to have an accumulation of newspapers, bills, books, notebooks, calendars, mail and information I needed for past stories

Every now and then I do a thorough house cleaning, but mostly I stop seeing the desk clutter. It all becomes part of the desk.

When the Comcast technician came to my house this week to install new equipment, I finally noticed the desktop clutter. Yikes. I knew it was time to clear it all away. Those of you who have ever tried to throw away papers know that you have to look at each sheet of paper so you don’t throw away something important.

So I resisted the temptation to sweep it all in the garbage with one big push.

Finally, after two hours I filled a wastebasket and could finally see the cleared top of the desk.

They say nothing succeeds like success, so my initial bit of cleaning turned into an all-out effort to rid my house of clutter.

I loaded up armfuls of books to give to the library and forced myself to part with a year’s worth of Consumer Reports. Then I filled another garbage can with stuff I had accumulated.

No one is ever going to give me the Suzy Homemaker award, but at least some of the clutter is gone.

But that’s just the clutter we can see.

My friends and I are also tackling activity clutter. In other words, we’re trying to do away with some activities so we can have some breathing space in our lives.

I’m often tempted to think when it comes to activities there are two kinds of people — those who have too much to do and those who complain about having nothing to do.

I’m convinced some of us get loaded down with too much to do because there’s an old belief that says if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it.

What that means in my own life is that I keep getting asked to join a club, hold an office or lead a committee.

I’m a slow learner, much slower than my wise friends who learned how to say one word: No.

No thank you. Don’t have time to do that.

So I kept saying, “I’ll try to fit it in,” until I realized I simply could not do an adequate job.

I knew I needed to make some hard choices by clearing away some of my obligations.

It’s hard when everything is worthwhile.

I had to give up my writer’s group even though I enjoy being with them and doing the writing activities.

Then I had to give up mentoring, even though it’s something I believe in. I felt I was shortchanging the woman I was mentoring because I couldn’t get together with her as often as she needed.

I stepped down from two committees I really liked for the same reason.

Some of the changes have been freeing. But I have to keep at it. My close friend Jeanne isn’t impressed with my efforts.

“I know you,” she said. “You’ll just take any empty time slot and fill it up again.”

I hope not, because I’m at the stage of life when I realize the time I have ahead of me is much too short.

Like many others, the older I get, the more I seek to have true meaning in life. Filling a calendar isn’t meaningful, even though much of it involves helping people.

Sometimes, the search for meaning requires contemplative time. I need more of that.

I don’t often stay still long enough, but when I do I wonder why I don’t do it more often. Clearing the clutter from my mind is also important.

An hour spent sitting still on my lanai can fill me with peace while I consider what truly adds meaning to life.

Yet, there are all those good things I want to do. I know the answer is finding a balance in my life. Part of my quest to clear away clutter will hopefully give me more balance.

My favorite charity endeavor is St. Vincent DePaul because I have seen it make such significant changes in the lives of struggling families.

That organization truly does change lives, one person at a time. I sometimes write newspaper articles that tell those dramatic stories.

One man who was on welfare for years was able to get a good-paying construction job that enabled his family to become self-sufficient.

When I asked him what made the difference, he said it was having a St. Vincent De Paul mentor who believed in him and worked with him to see the change come about.

That’s the same mentoring program I had to give up.

While I wish I could I volunteer more at the St. Vincent DePaul facility, I have to recognize and accept my limits.

I’ve finally learned that too much of a good thing isn’t good at all.

Contact Pattie Mihalik at

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