Getting rid of life’s clutter

My body is now paying for my hectic schedule over the past three weeks. It is Day 2 of my stay-in-the-room-and-just-get-some-rest schedule. My throat doctor, Dr. Pacio, says it is a viral thing and I should be okay in three to five days.

There were moments during that hectic period when I was given time to breathe, thankfully, but these were few and far between — never long enough for me or my body to feel that I/it actually had a break, some form of quiet respite. Not that I’m complaining. Work is always a blessing, especially if you enjoy it so much that it motivates you to jump out of bed in the morning, looking happily forward to what surprises the day may bring. They say if you truly love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life.

Of the maybe 50 and one ways there are to relax, my top three would have to include sleeping, reading and marathon DVD viewing on my laptop while wearing earplugs. As such, I have been watching seasons one to three of Grey’s Anatomy, and old movies like Terms of Endearment, Same Time Next Year, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Somewhere In Time. I am eyeing Lovers in Paris and Winter Love Song next — a series of Koreanovelas that my Tita Monette from Cebu swears by. She stays up till 4 a.m., watching their “reel” lives unfold, crying, falling in love with guys named Bae Yong Joon and Lee Dong Gun in real life. I’m curious, plus I am a sucker for love stories, so I, too, will watch. Soon. Plus those Korean guys look cute in their DVD cover photos.

I would include puttering around the house doing household chores as a close fourth but I always end up feeling tired in a happy kind of way at the end of that — tired after all the physical activity, happy knowing that things are as they should be, where they should be.  Orderly cabinets in orderly rooms in an orderly house always make for a kind of peace only housewives/mothers can fully comprehend.  But despite that pleasing end, cleaning/organizing is something I must not do just yet. I need to rest and that is what I should do now.  Practical wisdom dictates that. I do not know if staring guiltlessly into space, catching myself smiling at happy thoughts, frowning at and shooing away bothersome ones if and when they do come, and generally just making my mind wander where it wants to go counts as a fluid form of R&R, but I try not to indulge in that too much.  Daydreaming is a privilege teenagers have during summer break. It is no longer mine to always have as I please.

So here I am in bed feeling sluggish even after 10 hours of sleep, with hardly any appetite, my sore throat bugging me, my thoughts to keep me company, and despite all that I harbor still a strong urge to make this forced downtime productive. Oh, the things I could do, want to do, with five straight free days plus a long weekend at my disposal! I would happily not know where to begin. I know the room adjacent to the basement could use some work. I had removed the ugly blue cabinets that used to be there. It was not ugly at the beginning but after some time it became so and I do not know why it took me so many years to see that. It was much too big for the space it was in and because the doors would not open fully as they should, they did not even serve their purpose well. I had them removed two weeks ago and when I checked just yesterday the newly empty space was already filled (again!) with collapsible tables and chairs, some storage boxes, sacks of pretty but empty bottles and a bag full of extra hangers… it drives me crazy. Not the fact that they are there, but that they are there when they shouldn’t be.

I think what exasperates me more is how easy it is for my girls and/or drivers to fill an empty space. Like it is a mortal sin to have an empty space to begin with. Outside our bedroom door, alongside the wall lined with bookshelves I placed a beautiful wooden bench so we could have a place to sit on when we put on our shoes. And what do you know? It has become the official bagsakan, a depot of sorts for stuff we need to carry when we leave the house or stuff we bring when we get home. Ironically, there is hardly an inch of space for anyone to sit on while putting on shoes. Remember, that was the reason I placed it there in the first place. Why, I ask myself — the house girls, my daughter, my husband — is this bench always chock-full of odds and ends? Because there is space for it, we all resignedly agree.

Truly, it does not take a genius to figure that out. Come to think of it, that is the case with any empty space, whether it is a bookshelf, a room, a toiletry kit, or a person’s heart, even. Shouldn’t there be more careful thought given to the act of filling? A self-imposed decree of thoughtfulness, applied to all things big and small? In fact, before you buy that new sofa, order two more sets of tableware, get one more jacket, three more pairs of shoes shouldn’t the question after “Do I really need it?” be “Do I have the space for it?” And in matters of the heart or life, shouldn’t the question be “Will I feel better, will I be happier with this person, this thought, that new hobby, that dream?”

I remember what I read in one of my books, about how God cannot have a place in your life because all the spaces are filled to the brim with everything else but Him. So perhaps every day, in little bits and pieces, we must learn to empty out — the many drawers and rooms in our homes, the far-too-many entries in the calendar, the dark pockets in our hearts, making space for not only what we choose to have in our lives but also that which will make life more positive and beautiful in every way. Letting go has its sweet rewards.

In a wedding I attended recently the priest in his beautiful sermon said that what fascinates you, what captures your imagination, is what motivates you to get up from bed in the morning. Joel Osteen says it is important to always think the right thoughts because your thoughts direct your actions.

Why am I feeling under the weather in the first place? I took on too much. I cluttered my days with far too many things. Even if I knew I had to be up early the following day for work I would stay up late finishing the book I could not put down, I would squeeze in one tiny chore that would lead to yet another. I did not realize I was acting like I was superwoman even if I obviously wasn’t. I said “yes” to too many things, and I topped all that with more activities that I felt would relax me from the toll the former had taken. Not a very bright idea, really. Ultimately, I just ended up with a very exhausted me.

I am thinking about all that as I stay in bed, still debating whether or not to fight my fatigue and give in to my restless need to do something, anything, more productive than just lying down doing nothing. I listen to my body and try to remind myself that I owe myself this downtime, that I need not do anything more than just enjoy the calm space. Even if there is still that room adjacent to the basement to fix, Juliana’s bookshelves to sort through, the clothes she has outgrown to put away. Never mind if I have to really start organizing my Christmas list (we only have about 70 days to go before Christmas!), find my missing address book, update the paperwork piling up on my desk.

When I do not have “me time” I desire it, feeling it is a rare delight; but when it is finally there, why do I feel guilty about enjoying it?  That thought clutters my mind. Here I am, holding a chunk of time I can truly call my own and yes, oh yes, that should give me pleasure.  It does and I should not fight it. That gives me pleasure despite my sore throat, my tired joints and my wandering, cluttered mind. It is a pleasure I will, this very minute, start enjoying guiltlessly.

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