Life Laundry…revisited

(This is a Coaching Moments post from a few autumns ago. It’s still very timely; my son started high school a few weeks ago and my dad celebrates his 85th birthday this month. He had a heart attack a year after I wrote the post, and we’re both still doing the ‘life laundry’ every autumn.)

Life Laundry

Pegging out laundry
Damp and fragrant in the sun
She lifts up her face
Listens to the sheets flapping
In the breeze, surrendering
Ready to set sail  ~ Janice Hunter

What’s September like where you are? Is it spring? Or has the frazzling heat of August started to fade, leaving you fresher and less floppy? Do you take on new clients, begin new ventures?

September feels like the start of a new year for me, with its promise of exciting new beginnings, classes and semesters. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent most of my life as a student or a teacher or because my birthday falls at the end of August and both my children were born in the autumn. Whatever the reason, this is a time for freshly sharpened pencils, for blank pages and tempting piles of books, something to look forward to on darkening days as the nip of autumn turns into the unexpected bite of winter.

I have a cupboard in the dining room where I store all the Christmas candles, scented oils and festive season bargains bought in the January sales. Wedged at the back are some wooden Shaker hearts, hand-painted aChristmas Shaker hearts warm, folk art red. They were a free gift with a magazine and I always planned to do something creative with them. Waiting in there, patiently for years, they’ve soaked up the fragrance of cinnamon, apple and spice. If I’m ever saddened by the fading brightness of autumn, or tempted to see it as a season of loss rather than a time of fruitful abundance, I furtively open those doors and inhale the excitement of another season nestled within, like Russian dolls.

As evolving souls in human bodies, we’re meant to grow, to feel the seasons, to surrender to the beauty of each one – but like many people, I’m not very good at letting go. My daughter started high school a few weeks ago and I spent an anxious, distressed day pacing like a caged animal, unable to relax until she burst through the door beaming. My dad is eighty three this month and has started to prepare for a different kind of letting go, sorting through his treasures, putting his life and house in order.

One thing that calms me when the months and years seem to be spinning out of control is to anchor myself in the everyday details of creating a life I love. I try to cultivate gratitude and focus on the people I love, on the things that inspire me and on the thoughts, emotions and details that are within my power to change; then I just do my best to trust the rest to the universe.

Every autumn, I get a craving, an almost visceral nesting instinct to clear out all the debris of an old year. Out go old passions and paradigms, making room for abundance, new experiences, new people and new lessons to flow into my life. Clutter clearing – my own and other people’s – brings me so much pleasure, it should be X-rated. Deciding what to do with every sheet of paper, every object, every garment or piece of fabric is a living, breathing meditation, a tangible way to strengthen my choice muscles and ask some important questions:

  • If I had ten minutes to rescue my belongings, would I take this?
  • Do I really, really love and need this or am I keeping it ‘just in case it comes in useful’?
  • Could someone else get more benefit from this or love it more?
  • Am I keeping this just to please someone else? Or because it came from someone I care about ?
  • Is this anchoring me in the past when I need to be moving on?
  • Is this heartstoppingly beautiful?
  • Will the kids be glad I saved this in the attic for them or roll their eyes in years to come and wonder what on earth I was thinking about?
  • Does this object exude positive, empowering energy?
  • What does it say about me? And do I like what it says about me?
  • Does it symbolise a value, something good, something precious?
  • Do I spend more time dusting souvenirs than I do making memories?

Every time I shred paper and clear out my clutter, my coaching and poetry get better, the house becomes more spacious and easier to clean, we all have more energy… and I lose weight! As well as space and energy, a cathartic clean-out also frees up time and money. A few weeks ago, we had a family holiday in a small, white cottage by a sea loch; it was funded entirely by what we’d earned from family car-boot sales and by what we’d saved by recycling and re-organising.

What could you let go of this autumn to prepare the ground for the seeds of a new season?


  1. This is so beautifully written, poetic and timely. The period of time from September 7-29th is called Mercury Retrograde. It happens 3 times a year but this year and in 2010 it will happen 4 times due to the way the dates fall. During this time planet Mercury slows down in its orbit and appears to be going backwards like a slow train appears to passengers on a fast train. This is a good time to catch up on correspondences, do inventory, return outstanding phone calls, e-mails, clean out closets, desk drawers, and get together with people from our past. Sometimes items we thought were lost will resurface and people we haven’t heard from in a long time will contact us. It is also a time to double check appointments as miscommunication is common during this time period and be extra careful when driving as routines and routes may be blocked by construction or accidents. The next retrograde period will be Dec. 26th-Jan. 15. For 2010 the phenomenon continues April 18-May11th, Aug. 20th-Sept. 12th and December 10th-December 30th. I always mark my calendar with the time periods so I am prepared and I use these dates as a guide to reorganize, reset, retreat and reboot. Our school is having a Rummage Sale and e-waste Drive as a fundraiser and everyone is delighting in the fact that they are cleaning out their closets before the holidays roll around and helping the school raise dollars for school programs and field trips. I had to let go of my son as he started kindergarten last week. Although I have been a teacher for 20 years and received many children into the classroom, nothing has been more humbling than giving my youngest child’s hand to his kindergarten teacher. Today is the first day since school started that I find myself really feeling the impact, the possibilities and potential that this new school year will bring as it is the first morning since school started that I am completely alone in the home writing. This is some serious humble pie and I am purging the old toys of infancy, toddler time, and our preschool while the children are in school today for our school Rummage Sale( or I will never finish the job) and the children also have to choose 5 things to give to the Rummage Sale. Our entire family is letting go for a fruitful new season. Beautiful words Janice!
    .-= Cindy´s last blog ..Taking Off =-.

    1. Thanks, Cindy, especially for the dates. I’ll be marking them in my filofax. I loved your explanation. I heard something on the radio the other day that reminded me we were in this phase. Seems I have to be very careful when Mercury’s retrograde because it’s my ruling planet and so much of my life takes place in my head. I’ve already had the miscommunication mishaps this week, and blog-wise, it seems like I’m the one who’s done the resurfacing after being lost!

      I had tears in my eyes over at WD when I read about Max’s first day at kindergarten. Goodness knows what I’ll be like when my kids both leave home; it doesn’t bear thinking about. I know it’s selfish to grieve for the past and daft to struggle with letting go, but I do miss my teeny wee babies and toddlers sometimes.

      We’re jam packed with family birthdays from August until November, so we have to clear out to to make room for any new stuff. One advantage of them being older now is that although their gifts get more gadgety, they at least get smaller!

  2. Your poem brought back beautiful memories for me, of hanging out the laundry with my mom. The scent-filled memory was sweet. Laundry hanging on the line is one of the most invigorating fragrances ever. Dryer sheets just don’t compare.

    As sad as I get when summer comes to a close, the sadness never lasts long as it is overtaken by the tabula rasa of the first days of school! As a child, the first days of school were magical times as I went with mom to buy a new wardrobe. (Back-to-school and Christmas were the only times we got new clothes!) I loved buying the thick September issue of Seventeen magazine and flipping through the pages to find outfits I wanted to copy. The pastels of summer were replaced by the rich browns, deep purples and forest greens of fall. I not only got excited about new clothes, but new supplies as well. Looking for unique 3-ring binders, folders, and writing utensils was like finding a treasure.

    Now, as a teacher, I get my thrills shopping for new Expo markers in a rainbow of colors, jewel-toned paperclips, non-bleeding pens for my gradebook, and mini-prizes to give away as incentives.

    Needless to say, I agree with you that September is like the start of a new year.

    I’m printing out your list of questions to help me in my continuing quest to de-clutter. I have half a room of unpacked boxes to go. I’m being more ruthless than I have ever been, throwing away things that have sentimental value, without dying.

    For some reason, this post was very energizing. I want to go clean something now… 🙂
    .-= Randi´s last blog ..Who Wants to be Just Like a Millionaire? =-.

    1. Good luck with that last half room! I know what you mean about the urge to clean. There’s a programme on TV called How Clean is Your House where they showcase some tragic individuals who’ve become so unwell or overwhelmed that their homes have become health hazards. At one point in the show, the lady takes swabs to send to the lab and they always come back showing salmonella, E-Coli and last night, the one that causes typhoid. It makes me want to leap up after the show and clean the bathroom and kitchen with steel wool and bleach!!

      I am absolutely convinced though – and I could probably prove it statistically – that there is a clear link between hoarding/overwhelming clutter and depression/weight issues. Clearing the clutter can help with depression, past trauma and weight.

      Yet again, your comment read like a post and I was with you flicking through those magazines. In another universe I’m going to make sure that I get to meet you (and everyone else who comments here!) in the rerun of my school days, if I have any. I feel sure we would have been friends at school.

  3. First, I have to ask, what is a “family car-boot sale” LOL?

    I spent YEARS collecting enough stuff to feel like I have a full life, only to realize stuff has nothing to do with life. I wish we weren’t oriented towards accumulation in those earning years. I’d be RICH, RICH, RICH!

    I have slowly been paring it down and I have almost stopped accumulating altogether. That’s a start to realizing I need something completely different at this point in my life. Immersion.
    .-= Diana Maus´s last blog ..I’ll see you in my dreams II =-.

    1. We don’t have trunks in our cars in Scotland; we have boots. A car boot sale is when a whole bunch of folk drive to a playing field or park and sell things from the backs of their cars. You’re only allowed to sell what you brought in your car, so folk always take a fold-up table with them to display their belongings. I think the closest thing in the US is yard sales, but a car boot sale is safer because no-one knows you or where you live, plus, you get a great variety as there are dozens of folk there.

      I wish you lots of immersion – in life, love, light, company, joy, happiness, nature and creativity. I know that’s naughty because it’s not your list, but it goes without saying that I wish you all those first! I know what you mean about looking back and realising what we’ve spent on acquiring, but it’s all meant – it was all necessary, in its own way, to get us to where we are now on our journeys. I may have spent thousands of pounds on books over the years, books that are now weighing me down and need to be dealt with, but every one of those books carried a lesson. Every plant I planted in another home and had to leave behind served its purpose, as did every garment or object I ever bought. I’ll never recoup the money, but I get the equivalent value back in clarity, freedom, S P A C E and serenity when I let it all go.

      1. This is more of a PS than a reply. I read your post on negative space, and I forgot to mention that that’s exactly what I’m doing in my home at the moment, creating clean and clear spaces so that I can focus better on what matters, the people, activities and things I love. For the last ten years, there’s not even been very much art on the walls, and all photos are in frames on surfaces. I value the space more and don’t put anything on the walls any more unless I adore it and the family likes it, too.

      2. Okay, then your car boot sales are like our swap meets and flea markets, where people bring their items to a site and lay them out on tables. I LOVE the idea of the trunk sale though. How fun that must be!

        Yard and garage sales are still very popular here too.
        .-= Diana Maus´s last blog ..I’ll see you in my dreams II =-.

  4. Janice,
    Love the poetry! Memories of my mom hanging laundry for 12 people on the clothes line and talking with her while I played with the flapping sheets. I hung the clothes of my family as well when we lived in the country. I was sad when we moved to the city because there was an ordinance against it.

    This spring we hung new clothes lines at the cottage and I’m going out in a few minutes to take down the bedding before I leave and close it down for the year.

    Thanks for the memories my friend. You have a lovely style of writing…as always.
    .-= Tess The Bold Life´s last blog ..A Bold Diet for Bold Times: The Cheerio Diet =-.

    1. Thanks, Tess. I love gazillions of different blogs for gazillions of reasons. I love how folk celebrate the opportunity blogging gives them to connect, communicate and express themselves. Sometimes I learn and am inspired; sometimes I simply enjoy the community banter; sometimes, it’s nice just to read something that makes me smile, or empathise, or think ‘Me too!’, or drool, or quietly reminisce, like you did today.

      By the way, some day, could you explain the cottage please? I must have missed posts along the way. I thought you just had the house with the bright chairs.

  5. What a beautifully written post with a lot of good things to ponder. I fight fall, but once I give in it is an invigorating, more motivated time for me for some reason. Hope you have a wonderful weekend. I’m having a shopping gift card giveaway today. If that’s something that appeals to you, come on over and check it out!
    .-= pk´s last blog ..Shopping Giveaway! =-.

    1. I’m in Scotland so the shopping card would be wasted on me, but I’ll pop over anyway if I have time this afternoon. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece; it’s one of my favourites. I love this time of year because of the promise of feasts and festivals, and the chance to be more introspective and cosy before the spring.

  6. I love the way you see autumn as the time for cleaning out clutter rather than the typical “spring cleaning”. Opportunity for simplifying our lives is everywhere. I have been thinking about what will happen when we finally move into a new place of our own and go through the boxes and boxes of things that have been in storage for six months. Some of it I will be overjoyed to see and have in use again. Some of it I haven’t missed and probably should not keep. I will revisit the questions you asked above to help me evaluate what really matters in the things that surround me and inhabit my space with me. Thank you for sharing this.
    .-= Daphne´s last blog ..Inspiring Blogs =-.

    1. Nice to have you over here, Daphne. I’m glad you found the list helpful. May I offer some extra advice as you’re in such a fortunate decluttering postion, with you having your belongings in boxes right now? Write a list NOW of all the things you said you “will be overjoyed to see and have in use again”. The ones you’re really missing will leap to mind.

      If you can empty boxes in the storage facility, do it there. If not, when you move in and empty the boxes, have FOUR empty boxes and a garbage bag next to each full unopened one and use them ruthlessly: 1) Things to definitely keep in MAIN house – not loft or garage or basement 2) Things for Ebay/yard sale 3) Things to give away to friends/family who want them or to charities 4) Things that can be recycled (paper/fabric) 5) Trash.

      Next – after every box you empty:
      ~ Bin the trash
      ~ Put the recycled stuff in the appropriate bins or collection points
      ~ Create ONE corner for the pile of goods to be taken to the charity shop, to the goodwill or church.
      ~Create a separate corner for stuff to be sold. Sort out the ebay stuff from the yard sale stuff and start cataloguing or writing price tags. If you do it after ever box you unpack, it won’t be overwhelming.

      DON’T be tempted to start a 5th box for the attic called PENDING. If you do, call it Stuff other folk will have to deal with when I die…or… I can’t decide. That will stop it being pending for ever.

      Sorry – this is one of my specialisms. I got a bit carried away.

      1. Please don’t be sorry at all. This is a great suggestion and I’m sure will help other people visualize how to carry through what you outline above in practice. I will let you know how it goes!

  7. Hi Janice,

    Your poem, my dear friend, was beautiful just like you. Thank you for sharing it with all of us and writing from your heart. As I have always told you, your posts are like songs. So fluid and full of harmony.

    For this September, I have been letting go of past beliefs that I have held about myself and my life. One of my teachers when I was studying to be a Buddhist nun said that life is like a diamond. When diamonds are mined, they are all covered in mud and dirt. Through life experiences, we get polished and therefore, when we remove the dirt and mud, we discover the diamond that is within us.

    That imagery was burned into my soul and with each experience, I feel that I am getting more and more polished. So that has been kind of the status of my life this month so far.
    .-= Nadia – Happy Lotus´s last blog ..“Working for Good” – an Antidote for Violence – My Interview with Jeff Klein =-.

    1. I can vouch for how much ‘shinier’ you’re getting as the months go by; I’ve enjoyed watching your destiny become clearer as you hone your craft and follow your heart. Your comment reminded me of one of my favourite Chinese proverbs; as you know, I’m a quote addict and it’s one of many I used in the coaching certification ebook I compiled and co-wrote.

      The gem cannot be polished without
      friction, nor man perfected without
      trials. ~ Chinese proverb

      I feel I’ve been ‘polished’ a bit this last month, but I feel more like a sea tossed pebble. Sometimes I just lie there on the beach, basking in the sun or snuggled into the sand , lulled into a false sense of security, when wham, a wave crashes and sucks me in and I end up battered and tossed somewhere completely different, wondering how I got there.

      Thank you for the lovely words of support. I really liked this piece. I think I wrote better last year and the year before, when I was only writing one piece a month and a lot of poetry in between; it’s a bit of a worry.

  8. Hi Janice
    I remember reading the laundry poem in your Coaching Moments ebook. Beautiful poems, like beautiful things, need to be kept out in the open for everyone’s enjoyment. Moving them around occasionally can offer a new perspective. I have a feeling you’ve written many poems. I’d like to see more of them.

    You seem to be taking a new direction with the blog — posts that stay up longer and get letter-like responses. It’s so obvious how you welcome and value your blogging buddies. I’ve never participated in online “forums” but I’ve heard my son speak of them. Everyone shares their knowledge/insight on a technology topic and together they find new ways of doing things. There is potential for that happening here.

    I adore that TV show where the two British ladies come in and totally overhaul someone’s space. A friend of mine did that for me once, years ago when disposing of baby toddler child stuff just wasn’t happening fast enough. She was very forceful about it, which caused me discomfort at the time, but looking back, it was one of the kindest things anyone ever did for me.

    Now baby stuff is about to reenter my life. I can’t wait. The smell of baby bottom powder is a balm for any mess!

    1. I’m tickled that you remember the poem from the e-book. I also remember that you liked my pebble haiku and put it on your blog a while back. I have notebooks full of poetry. There was a time when that was the way my brain filtered my life. The poems – often tanka and haiku – regularly went on to become lyrics or bits of paragraphs. My writer’s voice often takes on the rhythms of song and speech, whether I like it or not – Scots often have sing-song cadences – so I try to go with the flow.

      I’ve noticed that my comments have got longer, too, but it hasn’t been deliberate. I smiled when you mentioned a forum because that’s how I was offered my first coaching column. The mentor coach who owned a forum on which I was prolific, recognised that some of my posts became entire pieces, coaching tips and inspirational messages. She was the editor of an online newsletter and offered me a column. That’s how Coaching Moments was born. I also unwittingly became the glue that held the forum together, introducing folk and welcoming new members. It was an environment I was happy in so I when I set up my own mentoring site, I added a forum. I also knew that any blog I ever set up would have to have an authentic interactive component.

      But I’m not sure I’ll be able to continue doing long comments, here or eslewhere. Not everyone wants a long response; some folk prefer to leave wee comments and never go back. My stats also show an awful lot of folk read and don’t comment. Sometimes, the dialogue between long term commenters can make newcomers feel left out, although I hope to goodness that’s not how folk feel here. Over at a blog Randi and I used to read, I spent weeks feeling like a newcomer barging in to a group of friends at a party. It’s a tricky one.

      I’m so jealous that you’ll have baby powder smells in your home soon!

    1. That’s one of my favourites, too. I asked myself that a few weeks ago and the answer was a sad and resounding Yes… 🙁

      It’s hard to say when objects that used to empower us and bring pleasure start reminding us of the past, things gone, places that have changed… One of the reasons I have the Desiderata in my navigation bar is that it always stays fresh for me. This line means many things to me, but recently, it’s helped me do a lot of letting go.

      Take kindly the counsel of the years,
      gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

      On a mundane level, I’ve been so tired recently, I really want to be able to get rid of stuff so I can get rid of some of the overwhelm and start enjoying cleaning and daily rituals again, instead of trudging through them or putting blogging first. Laundry’s almost like meditation for me, and I really believe in making sure good ‘chi’ can flow in the house.

      1. “It’s hard to say when objects that used to empower us and bring pleasure start reminding us of the past, things gone, places that have changed…”

        Oh that’s a good one, and powerfully motivating. Your thinking on this is very similar to mine lately. I appreciate the continuing encouragement. I am tired too and dream of less work to keep things looking fresh and clean.
        .-= Diana Maus´s last blog ..I’ll see you in my dreams II =-.

        1. It’s lovely that I have readers who read and appreciate each other’s comments and bearwith me when I ramble in my replies, too.

          I’m very passionate about taking control of the objects and possessions we share our space with. Long before I studied the theory behind a lot of it, I learned from my mum. We had no basement, garage or attic – just a small trapdoor loft, big enough to store a box or two of Christmas things. Five of us lived in a small house. Needless to say, we didn’t have the space to hold onto a lot of sentimental stuff, even if we wanted to. And my mum cleaned – goodness how she cleaned – but it was a lovely feeling to be in a clean house, one we could be proud of. We grew up in rented council property (state owned) and believe me, not all of our neighbours lived in clean houses. She didn’t clean to the exclusion of being there for us. She was always there for us.

  9. Hi Janice .. I love hanging the washing out .. I don’t do it here – no space, but I do hang it on racks in this room above my head and the scent wafts down of damp, drying clean laundered clothes! I desperately need to declutter – as we all work better when things are straight, clean, sorted etc .. – just need to do the things that I need to do now – and once I’m free then I can have a wonderful time.

    Sounds like a refreshing start Autumn has become in your life .. early bulbs will flower earlier, so you’ll have your rewards! The cottage by the loch sounded lovely .. sands of time ..

    Thanks – enjoy your days ..
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..What did the charcoal hawker start …? =-.

    1. I love the smell of clothes drying indoors, too. I choose my fabric conditioner and washing powder very carefully. At the moment, I’m using a range that smells like Greek hotel room soap in summer. Last month, it was roses and jasmine.

      Could you declutter a teeny weeny do-able bit every single day, so that it’s not all on hold ‘until’…? That’s what I’ve been doing recently, even on my tiredest days; just one wee thing bagged, binned or sorted. It all helps, and the feeling of achievement isn’t dimmed by it being a small amount.

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