Published 8:00 am Saturday, June 10, 2023
It takes steely determination and a hardened heart to declutter what took years to accumulate. It’s hard physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Not to sound morbid, because I’m fit as a fiddle and in a good place otherwise, but let’s face it – sooner or later someone is going to have to go through our stuff. So, recognizing the transience of health and of life itself, I have decided that rather than leave it to my grown children to sort out my garden after I depart for the great compost in the sky, I’ve chosen to do it myself.
I’m starting with the tool shed with its broken tools, half-used bags of potting soil and fertilizers, and empty pots. Gotta deal with it sometimes, so why not now?
And while I’m at it, what about my junky garden itself, which I have spent decades overplanting and over-accessorizing. It’s so highly personalized with weird plants and yard art and other whimsical accessories, no one else can possibly appreciate it like I do. Who besides me would embrace all these beds needing constant weeding? And who really needs ten glass bottle trees, and those painted bowling balls…what’s going to happen to mine down the road?
Or the office shelves groaning with books and boxes of magazine clippings; can’t tell you how many calls I have fielded over the years from distraught survivors whose dad or grandmother left behind garden reads that no library will touch.
I was discussing this last year with my friend Rick Griffin, a celebrated landscape architect who over the decades has helped me create a magical space that suits me to a T. He was the one who suggested curved walks and paths and round decks to break up the original strict lines of my property into smaller, more interesting spaces able to accommodate more plants while still being people accessible.
I shared with Rick that my beloved son Ira told me frankly, honestly, heart-to-heartedly, that when I’m no longer able to care for it, he was going to clean the property up to make it more attractive to the next owner by simply parking a big dumpster by the curb and hire someone to push everything in it.
I couldn’t fault him for this, after decades of helping others deal with the same aftermath. It’s devasting enough to lose a loved one, but truthfully, we all have our own ideas of how our space should be and don’t really want to create a shrine with leftovers from someone else.
So, rather than putting it off, I am embracing a proactive concept for handling this in the here-and-now rather than putting it off. It isn’t about mere neatening; it is a more proactive methodical organization that involves clearing out junk, and undoing a bit of work, to help make the garden more meaningful to me now, where I can enjoy it better, with less fuss, before I run out of steam.
Swedish people call this döstädning, or “death cleaning.” Sounds really depressing, but it is actually the opposite. Rick and I coined a better, cheerier phrase: creative deconstruction. Cheerfully deciding what I will actually use or cherish, and letting the rest go.
Unlike old king Sisyphus, eternally doomed to push a boulder up a hill, I am making the rock I call my garden easier to handle, less cluttered, more practical, and enjoyable. Interestingly, savoring each thing while I can before I share or discard it, is turning out to be cathartic, even enjoyable.
Cleaning out the toolshed, making it easier on me now. Without leaving junk for someone else to handle.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB
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