When There's No Room

Opening up space around us takes patience with the world inside of us

Photo by Samuel Holt via    Unsplash

Photo by Samuel Holt via Unsplash


Spending a month away from home can be supercharging.

Coming back home after a month away can be a shock to the system.

It’s no secret that I’ve been traveling more…and sometimes for extended periods. I love it, and I love some degree of “winging it,” but not when I’m preparing to depart.

Chaos on the front end of a trip inevitably means chaos upon arrival and I’ve learned just how much I like a calm re-entry.

Before I go, I tie up as many loose ends as possible. My mission: to leave everything in order—even if it means staying up well past any reasonable person’s bedtime. If I manage to do this, then I can roam with a free conscience and return home without a five-alarm fire to greet me. In fact, my ideal is to have everything, both literal and figurative, in its place, so that when I return, weary from the journey, there’s plenty of room for everything I’ve brought back. I can relax in the tranquility of my tidy home and fall blissfully asleep.

The degree of success I have with this varies for each trip, and, I admit, the ideal rarely happens. I was in way over my head with this last trip.

Let’s just say I have been gearing up for a big belongings’ purge for a long time. Imagine the full Monty: clothes and shoes that no longer fit or are no longer fit for wear, mountains of paperwork from projects past and present, books that seem to multiply beyond the number of shelves, a myriad of other accumulated items… and no time to sort through them. Add to that the newly-acquired belongings of a dearly departed friend. My floor and furniture have been bursting with stuff, having been the overflow locations when the closets became unable to contain one more item.

How do you come home when there is no room for you there?

I knew the state of my place would be hard to face if I didn’t do something before I left, and yet I had so little time. I washed everything in the kitchen sink, cleaned out the most critical items in the fridge, cleared a small space to enable me to sit on my couch, and made my bed. It was all I could do and still get decent sleep the night before I left (which I had decided was the higher priority).

When I got home one month and four countries later (after being up for more than 16 hours and traveling for most of it), I left my suitcase standing on one of the rare patches of bare floor, washed up and went to bed.

I awoke the next morning and have been slowly unpacking ever since.

In some parallel universe perhaps, we always unpack something or bring new stuff in after we’ve cleared the space for it. But, I find, that is rarely life in this universe. Sometimes, we have to alternate doses of letting in the new with letting go of the old.

So, I’ve been unpacking in waves, interspersed by releasing papers I don’t need, and going through (again), things I kept from my friend’s apartment.

The piles are going down and I can now stand on the floor of one of my closets, see what is under my kitchen sink, and move my hand more easily in four of my six file drawers. My suitcase is empty, and my clothes have been put away. Order is being restored slowly, and sometimes imperceptibly.

It’s an act of patience for me to live like this: where there are still zones that look like they are bursting at the seams. I know though, that to shove things into places just to say I have them here and to create the appearance of being uncluttered is too much gunk for my mind and heart. So, I let go slowly, in stages. The progress is sometimes visible, sometimes not—but I know I’m clearing space. Making room.

I see now, how true this is with all stuff, not just the physical. Sometimes things— opportunities, people, challenges—arrive when it seems like there isn’t any room. And we think how much more convenient it would be if X would have shown up after we’ve had time to clear for it. But it is here now. So, all we can do is roll with it. Does it stay or does it go? If I decide it stays, I know now that what I do next is look around (and inside) for what it is I am to let go. And that creates a lot more space in me too.