Sea Breezes, Books and Minerals

One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few. ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

How often do you coach someone who’s come to you overwhelmed, stuck or overweight? Someone who’s spiritually sluggish, washed out and weary?

Chances are, you’ll have worked on what’s anchoring them in their past and what’s blocking their energy, the flow of prosperity and creativity in their lives. You’ll have investigated what they’re clinging to, afraid of letting go.

For me, it’s been books. Currently, as we prepare to lay a new wooden floor, all of my books are packed in see-through plastic storage crates, dozens of them, some in the attic, and six or seven clogging the dining room. But do you know something? After years of squeezing between sofas and bookcases – I have no home office or study –  I feel as happy as a kid with new wax crayons. I have that lightness of spirit I feel on holiday, in rooms with lace curtains billowing in a sea breeze, revealing tantalising glimpses of a beach full of promise.

When the new wooden floor is laid, and the last skirting board nailed in place, not one single book will reappear on a shelf unless it is insanely useful, destined to be re-read or so precious it gives me an energy surge just thinking about it. I don’t need books to remind me  – or show others  – who I was, who I am, what I know or what I enjoy.

I turned fifty last month. For forty-five years, I’ve been devouring reading material; novels, text books, course books, magazines and more recently, online text. I have clusters of books from every phase and every career: dictionaries and text books in nine languages; tomes on astrology, feng shui, art and garden design; books on translation, linguistics and creative writing; files of coach training printouts and dozens of homelife coaching and personal development books.

I adore reading. I adore books. So why am I on the verge of a cull? I need my energy more. Most of my books are no longer inspiring me; they’re depleting me and anchoring me in the past.

I no longer cast astrological charts or speak Greek every day. I passed my coach certification and no longer mentor, or critique exam tapes. If I haven’t absorbed the basics by now, I’d rather revise them in some fresh new format.

I’m tired of dusting books I don’t read, and as my collection grows, it strikes me as bizarre to contemplate extending my home to house books.

Until recently, the thought of parting with them was unbearable. So what happened?

The menopause, my dad’s heart attack, my kids’ puberty and my own illness happened.

My life, for six months, has felt clogged and bogged down with tolerations. Even as I tackled them, kaizen style, one at a time, I accrued more than I dealt with. Sick of missed deadlines, sleepless nights, hair loss, infections and depression, I summoned the strength to arrange appointments with a consultant and my local doctor. Determined not to have my concerns dismissed, swept under the rug of age, parenthood and caring for an elderly relative, I asked for blood tests.

My inner child, my coaching voice, my intuition and every member of my spiritual team, desperate to crawl out from under the weight of overwhelm, were all screaming:

  • What do I need?
  • What’s stopping me getting it?
  • What am I getting too much of?
  • What am I not getting enough of?
  • What will I gain when I get the balance and flow back?

When I visited the consultant, I simply asked him to help me find out what I was deficient in.  Such a small question, but my silent sigh convinced me it was the right step, the right question, like a perfect pebble dropped in a deep pool.

While I was waiting for the results, I had my seasonal September craving to get clean and clear. I rode it like a cresting wave, surfing my way through packing, recycling and binning my possessions, blessing and letting go of anything that no longer energised me. I knew I’d reach the shore battered and sea-tossed, but it was worth it.

Out went patterned, grubby rugs, shabby faded curtains and sagging fake wood bookcases.

In came a shaggy wool rug, freshly painted cream walls, soft cotton slip covers and snuggly throws and cushions, all in natural textures and the colours of serenity and sea shores: sun baked terracotta, warm sand and sea-tossed pebbles, driftwood and shells.

My books, photo frames and ornaments are still safely stored until I decide their fate.

Right now, I need spiritual space more than belongings, fresh air and clear surfaces more than books and objects. I need time with my loved ones more than the memories that keep me anchored to lost loves and the empty shells of lives no longer lived.

My blood test results came back and I smiled. Due to malabsorption, I’m severely deficient in major minerals, including zinc. Zinc deficiency can cause sleeplessness, depression, skin problems, hair loss, infections and a lack of  appetite – for food, love and life itself. I was right to have insisted on tests.

Now that I know, I can work on my zinc. It’s easier to ask myself “How can I get and absorb more zinc?” than “How can I fix my entire life?”

One banana, one handful of seeds, one step at a time works for me, as long as it’s a step that takes me in the right direction.

Are you depleted at the moment? What do you need to get – and absorb – more of? What small step could you take today that will get you closer to where you want to be?

(*This was adapted from my latest Coaching Moments piece in VOICE, the official newsletter of the International Association of Coaching, where it was edited by Linda Dessau. The illustration is a painting called Long Golden day by Alice Dalton Brown.)


  1. That was a great post…especially as I sit here amid alot of clutter. And your so right. Ive been getting rid of stuff over the last few weeks yet some of it I held on to… and I think after reading this, I’m going to let more of it go. Because…well, it is clogging my life. That was a brilliant way to put it and I’m very very glad I stopped by this morning.

    I have much more to gain by its loss than by keeping it around…
    Thank you so much. I think you made my day.

    .-= The Crazy Suburban Mom´s last blog ..Stuff I bet you never knew about me.. =-.

    1. I have much more to gain by its loss than by keeping it around…Thank you so much. I think you made my day.…

      You just made mine! You summed it up so well; I certainly have lots more to lose if I don’t deal with all of these life anchors now. As the kids get older, their needs are changing. They’re living from moment to moment, leaving debris and emotional chaos in their wake. I need to reboot and upgrade if I’m going to be able to thrive and do what I was sent here to do.

      Thanks for visiting!

  2. Janice,
    I already threw out 2 garbage of stuff, stuff I’ve been tossing around for a very long time. Things I kept saying I could use someday – but really never did. And probably never would.

    I feel about 20 pounds lighter, and I love that about decluttering 🙂

    I saw you visited me and glad you got a giggle! I do try with the giggle thing – life’s tough enough, you know?

    Well, on to more throwing away!
    .-= The Crazy Suburban Mom´s last blog ..Stuff I bet you never knew about me.. =-.

  3. I feel as happy as a kid with new wax crayons

    Wow this is so exicitng. I’m feeling the same way about books. I never, never, never thought I would. I’m the one with 6 going at the same time. Then last year when I decided to simplify my life I declared I wasn’t buying anymore books. I don’t think I’ve purchased 10 all year which is what I used to buy in a month or less.

    I know feel like you do. I don’t need to have them and you’ve just inpsired me to give away many of the ones I kept when we moved. (although I gave away two 7 feet tall bookshelves of them.)

    It must be in the air! Thanks for the inspiration. I’m going to paint my walls as well!
    .-= Tess The Bold Life´s last blog ..11 Things I Can’t Live Without =-.

    1. I never thought I’d ever be able to do this either, Tess. Because I can successfully coach folk to declutter, as I’m sure you often do, too, I added a whole load of guilt to my baggage, knowing the theory but dragging my feet when it came to taking action, like plumbers who have faulty pipes in their own homes because they’re too busy doing other stuff, sorting out other folks’ blockages and leaks.

      You may be interested in this site; a colleague pointed it out after reading my piece. One of your books could end up in Scotland!

    1. Thanks, Lori.

      Fear is a killer, as you know. Many folk hold on too tight because of the fear of lack and the unknown. It tenses folk up, screws them up so tight they can barely function. Add to that the clogged up bogged down feeling caused by hundreds of undone ‘jobs’, and you can see why sometimes we can hardly move from under the weight of overwhelm.

      Decluttering is detox (or Mr Muscle Sink Unplugger 😉 ) for the body, too. I always end up with a renewed determination to get healthier and lose weight when I get my clean and clear cravings. It’s like my body, mind and spirit do a dance and they seem to have it choregraphed so that I don’t know what comes first, the craving to declutter, the need for better health or the desire for a simpler, happier life.

  4. How lovely to know what you need and want, so many of us flounder. Spiritual space is such a sacred thing to create.

    I am in the process of gifting away many of my books. It does free the body, mind and soul.

    And how cooincidental that a friend, Jan Lundy (Awake Is Good Blog,) recently gifted me with that Anne Morrow Lindberg book you quoted up there! I am not too far into it, but loving it of course. I am wondering if she will ever go back to suburbia or stay in her little cottage?? Quite suspenseful.

    Thanks for the tulips! Is there any cheerier flower??
    .-= Jannie Funster´s last blog ..And So On. And So On. And So On. =-.

    1. Hi, Jannie,
      Great to see you over here. I love my tulips, too! Every time I see the banner, I remember the day I took the photo. It was glorious, and yes, there was dancing, cheery music and creative leaping around in the kitchen!

      I love the way you referred to what I’m doing as creating spiritual space. Hearing things mirrored back to me in comments always clarifies them for me. That’s exactly what I’m doing; creating a sacred space for my spirit to breathe. We all start off with it, but most of us Westerners manage to clog it up.

      Gift from the Sea is one of my all time favourite books. I read it every year, by the sea somewhere, and I never grow weary of its wisdom. Something different strikes me every time I read it. Let me know what you think after you finish it!

  5. Hi Janice. Your comments about old books reminded me of a rant by Jerry Seinfeld. He said, “What is people’s obsession’s with books? They read them and then display them on shelves for years after, like they’re trophies.”

    For what amounts to a temporary activity, books do often become permanent fixtures. Like you say, sometimes they symbolize parts of our past. I always find it so interesting to see what’s on someone else’s bookshelf, though I guess it doesn’t always tell us who they are.

    I love getting rid of things. I feel lighter, and it reminds me that everything I own represents an emotional investment I’ve made. When I give up a possession, it no longer owns a part of me.

    I enjoyed this post, it was a good read.
    .-= David Cain´s last blog ..How to Fight Crime by Making Your Bed =-.

    1. Thanks David; I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m so passionate about people’s relationships with their homes and possessions as living art and symbols of their values and spiritual evolution, I run the risk of boring folk to death talking about it.

      In the past, I was always able to get rid of novels, just by looking at a book and asking myself if I’d read it again. Then things got complicated as various jobs required reference books, articles benefited from quotes and my daughter starting ‘borrowing’ my paperbacks!

      I liked what you said about the emotions we invest in our belongings; the relationship is an awful lot more complex than folk think. I don’t know to this day if I’d have had the courage to do a clearout this huge if I hadn’t been feeling so bad; it got simpler as the choice became clearer – Do you want this stuff… or your health, energy, creativity, space and time back?

      I also used to keep books on shelves to show a bit of myself and for folk to browse through, but now I’m happy for folk to get to know me from day to day, by asking, listening and connecting. Books and possessions make great symbols and help trigger conversations, but that doesn’t stop us having revealing conversations and getting to know folk online or when we’re in cafés, pubs or travelling, and it’s just us and them.

  6. The feeling that you get when you declutter is AMAZING. In fact, there are only two things I have ever been sad to get rid of – the rest was lost to the reach of my memory.

    If you don’t feel energized and AWESOME when you pick up a book, or profoundly moved, then you should definitely let it go. So many people feel obligated to their belongings which is so funny because our belongings don’t actually have feelings!

    I feel freedom in your space, Janice.
    .-= Hayden Tompkins´s last blog ..How to Sabotage Your Income =-.

    1. I like what you say about people feeling obligated to their belongings. So many do. I’ve got a guest post coming up next week that goes into depth about that; I hope you’ll check it out.

      One of the problems I have with decluttering is that I tend to do it in passionate surges as well as keeping on top of it daily. Many’s the time I’ve gotten rid of something or stored it away in a ‘sensible place’ during one of those culls then simply forgotten.

      I’m feeling fresh air and growing freedom at the moment, too. (Even though I’m sitting here typing while my husband’s ripping up the old flooring!)

  7. Hi Janice. I like how you tied in the idea of the books and absorbing knowledge with your absorption of minerals. It’s interesting how our perspective about life and our surroundings has a way of being reflected in our health. I’m glad you found out what the issue was; now you know WHAT books to read. I feel the same way about clutter; just took a bag of clothes to the Salvation Army yesterday… and a book (just one though) 🙂
    .-= Davina´s last blog ..8. A Trail Through Thyme =-.

    1. Thanks for noticing that the themes in my pieces seem to emerge connected and in different layers; sometimes I do it deliberately, but more often than not it just happens.

      I have a feeling that a lot of bloggers and writers enjoy decluttering and getting rid of unecessary stuff because they have editing instincts, that need to get rid of the unecessary, to buff up what’s left and make sure it counts.

      My husband’s amazed at the amount of books we’re managing to sell on Amazon at the moment, but that’s because I order in a lot of obscure specialist ones from the States; it’s a win/win for folk buying them here.

    1. Thanks, Vered. It’s a weird journey towards feeling better, kind of a three steps forward, two steps back setup, but I’m celebrating every moment I feel lighter, fresher or more energised. Decluttering’s more than a freeing experience, it’s a drug!

  8. Hi Janice,

    Decluttering to me, equals freedom. Like a ton of bricks lifted.

    Over the summer I decluttered, had a garage sale, decluttered more and find there’s even more I can do. Like you, I have hated getting rid of books, but one day when I was in the right mood, I went through all of my books and started “tossing”. They ended up in my garage sale and as each sold, I felt a sense of relief. For one, I had gotten rid of them, and two, someone else could now enjoy them.

    Thank goodness you asked for a blood test. I wish you continued good health.
    .-= Barbara Swafford´s last blog ..Does The Party Ever End =-.

    1. Thank you! I’m feeling a bit better every day, but I still have to resist the urge to log on every day to read, write and comment. I’m obsessive by nature, but this time I’m making changes and getting a balance for the long haul. I’m rattling with supplements as well as eating like a deranged health food guru.

      Your comment made me smile. You and other folk here have such amazing blogs, creations to be very proud of, yet there’s a feeling of achievement and pride as well as relief when folk share their decluttering triumphs! It’s not always easy, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get a cathartic release from it!

  9. Hi Janice,

    Cleaning up the attic whether it is in the home or in our heads is so vital. I think many people are experiencing what you are. Or that is what it appears like.

    As for me, when I turned thirty, I decided to simplify my life. So I got rid of tons of books, clothes and so on. I decided that I would only keep what I really need. It was so liberating and I have maintained it ever since. I have done the same with people too. Anyone who is toxic, was removed because life is too short to waste by dealing with people who just bring you down.

    By the way, I am happy that the blood tests provided the answers you needed. May you be forever in perfect health. Blessings, love and hugs to you! 🙂
    .-= Nadia – Happy Lotus´s last blog ..Are You An Angry Talk Show Or A Romantic Comedy? =-.

    1. Thank you. Having watched loved ones die after years of poor eating habits, I’ve always been careful about my diet. The malabsorption’s been frustrating for me as the consultant says that beyond avoiding the major cuplrits, some folk simply do, and have to accept it.

      Your comment got me thinking back to what I was doing at thirty and I smiled. That was back in the day when we ‘d come back from Portugal and lived in a rented flat. I worked for spells abroad, contracting, living out of a suitcase. All of our lives fitted into a car and trailer, while my mum and dad had the childhood boxes still in their attic. I did more travelling and living then, and less reading, maintaining and acquiring. Kids changed everything. Like it or not, they come with a landslide of stuff, often kindly provided by well-meaning loved ones. My first university posts also resulted in a lot of books and files; fine when they’re in your office at uni, but not so good when you bring them home and add them to the rest!

      I got rid of toxic friends, too. Hard, but necessary. Challenging relatives are another thing altogether.

  10. I sooo needed this post. As usual, this is the third time I’ve been back to read it again!

    As you know, I’ve been going through a big de-cluttering phase, but the hardest thing to get rid of have been my books! I love books, bookstores, the smell of paper and glue, the feel of a new book’s pages across my fingertips. Like a good song, a book for me encapsulates what was going on in my life at the moment.

    I’ve come away with a new resolve to de-clutter books. About ten years ago, I sold some books of mine at a yard sale and I have regretted it ever since. I think that is why I have had such trouble getting rid of books again. I’m afraid I will want it again, after it’s gone.

    But seriously, now that I’m 49, do I really need that book on how to do yoga while pregnant? Since I haven’t run a business for two years, do I still need that book on how to successfully manage a cell phone store? Do I need Book 1 of a sci-fi trilogy when the person who borrowed books 2 and 3 failed to return them twenty years ago? Will I ever pick up my college text on learning and memory again? Do I need to keep that book I bought on the dangers of artificial sweeteners, when I was already convinced before I bought the book? I think I see what I need to do.

    It’s funny, but in my de-cluttering stage I kept avoiding the book issue. But Janice, you eerily popped into my head again, and pulled out what I most needed to deal with. Books take up SPACE.

    I feel lighter already!
    .-= Randi´s last blog ..Thoughts of a Twitterless Thinker 10-10-09 =-.

    1. I love that you re-read these. Thank you!

      I lent a book on Chinese meditations and Taoism to a friend thirty years ago. I never got it back, it’s now obsolete and I’ve missed it ever since. I have made hundreds, thousands of good decisions about what to let go of, but that book haunts me. I so understand where you’re coming from. Hayden above remembers a few partings she regretted, too. We know that we ‘should’ learn to let go when we need to, but we all know, too, that the practice is harder than the theory.

      The closest I can get to explaining it is the mistakes in judgement I’ve made about friends; some I neglected and let drift and then I realised how stupid I’d been and couldn’t salvage the friendships. I guess maybe we’re afraid of parting with books we spent time and energy absorbed in; they almost become real to us, part of us by osmosis. They can feel like friends and companions, mentors and counsellors when we’re engrossed.

      But it sounds to me as if you’re very clear on which are the easier ones to get rid of. You wouldn’t keep an ex lover in a cupboard would you, just in case you had an argument with your hubby! 😉 What helps me is to have a DATED box in the attic labelled Books I’m not ready to get rid of yet but don’t want in my living room. It also helps to keep the ISBN number, author and title of every book you part with in this new phase. Then, instead of piles, you have digital files.

      As long as you’re ruthless about periodic clearing out of storage spaces, this can work. The best technique is to ask: Would I save this if I had 15 mins warning before a flood/fire or moved to a smaller home with only one bookshelf? A less scary question is to ask if you’d remember it and pay to replace it after a flood or fire.

      I think you and I and many of the folk I know would benefit from a Kindle or Sony equivalent. I love books, physical books, the smell, the feel, the images and fonts, but when they breed, they can start to behave like bacteria or an invisible flesh eating virus, eating up the spirit as well as our freedom of movement and square footage.

      My parents had one bookcase and used the public library for everything else. Then we got ‘educated’ and started filling our own bookcases. When I had kids, I kept my own books and my husband his, then each kid had their own bookcase, because we had the space.

      Please check out my guest post next week; I think you’ll enjoy it.

  11. Janice, your post reminds me that I have not yet made the time to cull and purge our belongings that are in storage. I loved what you said about spiritual space. I believe that having our stuff out of sight and mostly out of mind has given me the opportunity to start afresh with myself, something I plan to continue with the material things as soon as that door is fully opened to us. I love the way you write. Thank you for sharing this.
    .-= Daphne´s last blog ..Own Your Way =-.

    1. Thank you! I agree that it gives us a boost to get some idea what it would feel like to have clear space, even if our unwanted belongings are simply stored somewhere else. It’s a huge achievement to get that far. But the last phase, when we finally let go, is SOooooo freeing! I wish you fortitude for your trip to the storage facility! If you let us know when you plan to do it, we’ll all wish you well and send you cyber cups of coffee or tea!

  12. Janice — I liked this post very much. I enjoyed the way you showed how the different things going on in your life are connected. It is important to look at our lives without letting the clutter we collect get in the way.

    I was also impressed how you followed your intuition about your health. It sounds like you’re listening to your inner voice a lot more. Even the process of decluttering your house seems to be a part of taking care of yourself. Good for you!

    In answer to your questions: I think I need to take page from your book and work at cleaning up my house and all the drawers packed full of stuff I no longer need. To do this, I commit to one drawer a week…take my word for it, this is actually a difficult challenge:~)
    .-= Sara´s last blog ..Like Minds: The Love List Project =-.

    1. Thank you, Sara. My inner voice has become a bit ‘unignorable’ – it’s been screaming till I pay attention 🙁 Everything is connected. I’ve been desperate to log on these last few days, but instead have been steadily helping my husband lay the new floor (I advise on patterns, cutting etc), I’ve organised my daughter’s birthday celebrations and I’ve been gently nibbling away at clearing out. A wee bit a day still helps. We sold a few books and games on Amazon which, in addition to making us feel good about recycling, completely covered the cost of our meal out on my daughter’s birthday. It all adds up.

      Please let us know how you get on with those drawers. I usually read and reply to all comments here promptly, but for some reason I haven’t been receiving any WordPress alerts about comments. But I will read them in my admin page when I log on. Good luck! Remember to use the five bag/box system I mentioned in my comments a couple of posts ago: empty and clean the place you want to clear first, then use one bag or box for the trash, one for the recycling, one for charity/goodwill, one for Ebay/Amazon/yard sales, one for KEEP&FILE&STORE.

  13. Hi Janice .. how I too feel like you – I have masses of cookery books, which I dearly love, and occasionally I’ll go through them and cook different foods – but I’m on my own and don’t entertain that much – but it’s my hankering! I have reference books and declutter the novels, keeping the others – which I refer to for my blog quite often: perhaps showing my age .. brought up to read, refer etc

    I must do more .. I will – things have this week changed, so I’ll have more time ..

    I too love your tulips – always bring a smile to my face when I come to your blog ..

    Good luck with the continuted health improvement ..

    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..What can you read from Kitchen Utensils? =-.

  14. I’ve been out of it for a week. How have things changed? Are you managing those changes OK?

    You have an online community of friends who follow your coments and care about what you’ve been going through, so why don’t you cyber cook for everyone, from the vegetarians to the adventurous? As you love dipping into books to find extracts for your blog, you could go through the cookery books and start an If you were here this weekend, I’d cook you all some…… section on your blog.

    There are many folk like you who live alone but love cooking; they might appreciate recipes for one, based on your favourites from your books, or benefit from someone advising them on which are the best meals to cook, divide into portions and freeze.

    Like you, I keep more non-fiction books than novels these days. things have got easier for me since I started keeping more ‘quotebooks’ where I jot down quotes as I read.

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