In the six weeks since my partner died, I have spent much of my spare time cleaning the townhouse. Neither of us were particularly tidy people – although we both placed a high value on hygiene – and we hadn’t done a thorough cleaning in years. She had been sick a long time, and in the last few years, we had had better things to do. Recently, I have been undoing the years of neglect, and finding, somewhat to my surprise, that I am enjoying the process of tidying, and finding it both satisfying and therapeutic.
For a long time, I have referred to reducing clutter as “easing the karmic burden.” That is meant as a wry reference to the idea of not burdening yourself with possessions, but it seems to me literally true. Getting rid of non-essentials feels very much like organizing myself, or perhaps getting rid of distractions.
Then, too, I suppose that creating order out of chaos is one definition of creativity. Organizing my desktop or library may not be actually creative, but it feels like it is. In a milder way, the sense of accomplishment that comes from tidying feels much the same as that when I complete an article or a poem.
In the last six weeks, those feelings have been especially important to me. But, even more to the point, I’ve needed something meaningful or useful as a distraction from grief. I haven’t been capable of much original effort (which makes writing articles painful, let me tell you), but tidying has been something I could accomplish without a great deal of thought.
Moreover, in this case, tidying has been a way of dealing with grief. As I sort through a closet, I remember when something was bought, or who gave it to whom, and what we said at the time. I find parts of our lives that I had forgot about, or even parts of Trish’s that I only knew vaguely, or not at all – something I would have said was impossible after all the years of our marriage. I have even discovered gifts that she had bought for me, but never given. At times, I’ve broken down while cleaning, and worked with streaming eyes, or had to sit down and rest because I was overwhelmed.
I sometimes think that, had I known the scope of the task I was undertaking, I never would have started it. But, mostly, I think I wouldn’t have missed the experience for any reason. In tidying my external environment, I’ve been doing some internal sorting as well. If I finish the process in a few weeks, as I intend, in many ways I’m going to miss it.
I don’t know if I will keep the townhouse as tidy as I’ve already made several rooms and plan to make the rest. I think I will, at least for a while, because the result appeals to the austere side of my nature. But if I backslide, that wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen, because the effort of tiding will have already served its purpose for me.