Book Recomendations

Breathing Room by Lauren Rosenfield and Dr. Melva Green Book Review

I picked up this book at my local library simply because the subtitle caught my attention. About a year and a half ago, after years of feeling like a pin cushion, numerous miscarriages, changing eating and lifestyle habits, and taking medicines that put me through “lovely” mood swings, I was told by my doctor that it would be a miracle if we ever had another baby. I was crushed. I had always anticipated a large family. Two children, 5 years apart was not my vision of how my family would turn out. We got the news in September, which for our family marks the beginning of a very busy time of year, birthdays, school activities, the holidays and a siblings wedding. I didn’t really have time to deal with the news. Admittedly I was more grouchy than usual.

As Christmas approached I went into our storage room to get our tree and other decorations. There sitting in the corner was all of the baby toys and items I had kept. It made me angry, exceptionally angry. I’m not really sure why that was the emotion that came, but I was more mad than I have probably ever felt in my life. I angrily dragged out the Christmas decorations, and in my anger, I hit my head on the low ceiling of our storage room. I sat down and took a minute to check myself and my emotions. I closed the storage room door and vowed that as soon as the craziness of the holidays and my brother’s wedding was over I would get rid of the baby items in the storage room. Up until that moment in my life, I had never had such a strong emotional reaction to things. I am not overly sentimental and I tend to easily get rid of things that are not serving a purpose in my life. They are, after all, just things.

The process of getting rid of those baby things was exceptionally hard, but I knew that keeping them would be harder. I didn’t want to go into the storage room for Easter decorations and be angry, or our camping supplies and get sad, or to pull out our luggage for a trip and have the current joy I was experiencing be dampened by seeing those things waiting for a baby that might never come. It took me the better part of six months to get rid of those items because there were so many emotions to deal with. My poor husband and kids! They got to deal with me on a roller coaster of emotions.

Still a year plus later, when I think about it, I am overwhelmed at how much of an emotional ordeal getting rid of those items was. When I saw the title of this book the first thing that popped into my head was; “I am not alone! Other people have experienced this too. I hope I can get an explanation as to why it had such a dramatic effect on me.”

Onto the review, the book did address the connection between things and our emotional health much more than any other decluttering book I’ve ever read. The word choice to describe these connections were a little too “out there” for me, but the basic premise rang very true. Towards the end of the book it is stated, “Objects are valuable in your life if they create happiness, freedom, and ease.”  This statement really hit home. It was what I experienced. I didn’t actually have very many baby items that I had kept, really just two storage bins, a johnny jump up and a bin of toys. They had a space in our home, but they were not bringing me happiness. I did keep a few items that meant something to me and brought feelings of joy rather than anger or sadness, but everything else went and while I am still dealing with my feelings it is more on my terms and not because I saw a sad reminder sitting in my storage room.

Another thought from the book that really resonated with my own experience: “Our storage has a story to tell. And they are not all easy stories. They include memories of attachments, fears, guilt, regret, disappointment, and worry. We distract ourselves from decluttering the stuff (and these uncomfortable emotions) we have boxed or heaped in our closets, attics, basements and garages. We put it off. We tell ourselves that we have better things to do. But listen: there is nothing for you to do that is more important than taking an honest look at the stuff you are carrying around that is causing you unnecessary pain and anxiety.”

The part that stuck out to me was unnecessary pain. I think that is why I got so angry that day getting my Christmas decorations out. I think I initially felt sad and then jumped right to anger. I love decorating for Christmas, I was angry that seeing those things was taking away some of the joy that I usually feel at that time of year. Finding out we can’t grow our family as we had planned is always going to be painful. It’s something that I will probably have to deal with emotionally for a long time, but hanging onto the baby items was causing unnecessary additional pain.

Another paragraph that gave me some insight: Your possessions are not you. If all of your possessions were to vanish, you would still be you. By letting go of the clutter you are storing, you are not removing a part of yourself. You are, in fact, removing what is not you, so who you are can shine more clearly, with vibrant health.

I am an optimist for the most part. I am also keenly aware of moments when I am painting myself as a victim. I generally view myself as the heroine of my life story. Those baby items seemed to scream “tragic figure” somehow. I’m not sure that anyone else would interpret it that way, but to me it said: here is someone who had something terrible happen to them so how could they help but be anything but sad? I did not like that portrayal, it was not me. At least I hoped it was not me. So I made the choice to remove them so I could work towards being who I really wanted to be.

One last quote from the book and I’ll wrap this up. It sure got long! “It is easy to say, ‘release everything that does not serve you: possessions, obligations, relationships, roles.’ The trouble is that so many people don’t know who they are. We don’t know what serves us. We confuse who we are with possessions, obligations, relationships, and roles–stuff. You are none of those things. You are a unique manifestation of the Divine in this world, (there is some of that word choice I had a hard time with, but she makes the point) a light revealed just once in creation. Your stuff either serves that or gets in the way. Declutter what’s blocking your light.”

I once came across a fact that surprised me. Apparently mathematicians have crunched the numbers and figured out the odds of an individual being born. They figured out the odds of you being born at the time you were born, in the place you were born, to the parents you were born to, with the DNA that you have and it’s 1 in 400 trillion….TRILLION! I didn’t even know how many zeros that includes. I had to look it up. A Trillion is 12 zeros. The odds of you being who you are is 1 in 400,000,000,000,000.  Other mathematicians put it at even crazier odds some as high as 1 in a centillion which is 303 zeros. I’m not even gonna try to type that out. The point is. Yes, I always had a picture in my head of me being the mom of a large family, but even that is just a role I put myself in. It is not actually who I am. And continuing to be sad, angry or upset by not being able to be this pretend person I created is taking away from who I am.

I am a mother, I want to be a great mom. I have never wanted to be a sad mom, or an angry mom, or a tragic figure. Reading this book really helped solidify thoughts that I had not taken the time to focus on. There is real change that can happen internally and emotionally even when it feels like all we are doing is focusing on an outward thing. Sure getting rid of unneeded items is a very physical action, but it has profound emotional effects. My possessions now better portray who I am and the optimistic picture of who I would like to become, and that feels incredible. Sure I still feel sad sometimes, I have lost children that I never really got to say hello to, that leaves a hole in a person, but when I walk into my living room or storage room or back yard, I only see things that make me happy. There is something to be said about surrounding yourself with beauty, love and joy. It makes it that much easier to turn off that voice in your head that tells you that you have no choice, but to be sad, because here you are looking right at happiness.

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