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I loaded another garbage bag full of stuff into my SUV.

I promise myself I won’t ride around with it for two weeks before chucking it into the Hannah Home bins beside the run-down restaurant in town.

Everything in me wants to rip open the bag just to make sure I don’t need what’s in it.

This bag will make #21 that I’ve hauled off in a month’s time. I couldn’t tell you what bag #1 or #20 held inside.

But I can tell you that when I started getting rid of my physical stuff, the mental stuff followed.

It was a process. I didn’t just get to click and drag every unwanted item into the trash.

I started with a mess.

And unlike a disordered desktop, I couldn’t dismiss it with the close of a laptop on a desk.

Things cluttered every corner of my home and my head as I hoarded knickknacks and notes under the bed.

On the first day, I picked up a blanket that had wrapped around baby thighs. How could I get rid of it? Then I picked up another. Then another.

I looked around our tiny home for a place to stash the sentiments. I moved them to another closet, only to be moved again. I thought of our shed but boxes already stacked to the rim.

Our space is already spread too thin.

Back and forth I went with the blankets in my hands, reflecting on the moments I had with them. To one room, then the next. Through one door, then another.

And while I was in this trance, I missed a craft on the floor. I missed a call for “Mama” at my feet.

And then something clicked.

I placed a few handmade blankets into the dresser and grabbed a garbage bag from under the sink. I looked at each and every blanket as I dropped it into the bag.

I found reasons not to let it go but finally decided to donate. I filled that bag and then another.

Soon enough, I sat in a room with empty dresser drawers and no carpet in sight, stuff stacked in piles around me.

Two bags full and there I sat, more overwhelmed than before. I looked around at the mess I made.

I should just put all of this back. I should just hide this here and shove that there.

I should just stop.

I walked away from it all and closed the door, like I’d done so many times.

Because that’s what we do. We make a little progress. We fill a couple bags and we make a few plans. We have the best of intentions when we suddenly look up at the mountains around us. We get overwhelmed. We shut the door. We stop.

But unlike the times before, I merely paused.

When I went back to open the door, it slammed open with a velocity it hadn’t felt before and soon enough, five bags were full.

The next door that slammed was my trunk; my arms and my mood felt lighter after each swift lift and release into the bins.

Four rooms and 15 bags later, I walked through bare rooms and breathed in fresh air from open windows not hidden by junk.

I stared at my blankish walls with a newfound freedom. And at nap time, I started a load of laundry and a new book.

I know this goes against everything I’ve known. Just like any other Southern girl, I grew up visiting my grandmother with her tea party sets and good China plates.

I probably threw away furniture that Chip and Jo would refurbish.

Half of the people I know own storage sheds for the stuff they can’t fit in their homes.

But they got a good deal. But they might use it. You never know.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t eat off my floor and my kids have toys. I didn’t chuck my prized possessions or my baby’s favorite lovey.

My house gets messy. There are crumbs on the kitchen floor and dishes in the sink.

Doing any one thing won’t cure all of my problems and the piles won’t sort themselves willingly.

But I no longer have to be her. I’m not the one with the decor or the one with themed rooms. I’m not the one in a glass castle with pruned bushes and magazines.

And if you’re reading this and say, well, I am.

Just know that you can, but I will never compete.

I watch the news on Thanksgiving and see a murder over a TV. She did it for the thrill, but this Friday, all she sees is black.

In an attempt to fill a void, we buy and we consume.

They tell us to buy and we do.

The next thing we know, we have three old controllers in our nightstands and our kids are grown.

But today, I choose an extra toddler smile instead of moving more things around. I choose a card game instead of organization. I choose a show with my husband and a raincheck on more consumption.

I give my memory the credit it deserves.

I don’t need a blanket to recall midnight cuddles. I don’t need jeans that remind me of my pre-baby body and I don’t need CDs to remember the songs I used to know.

I don’t need a door hanger for every week. I don’t need shoes to match every outfit. I don’t need a reason not to go outside on this beautiful day. I don’t need more stuff.

The memories I need are kept in a baby book, a journal, and endless files in a too-large untouchable cloud.

But the best things won’t make it onto a flash drive. No Instagrammed photo will take me back to this exact place in time; the moments I was missing behind mountains I made.

A closed door/laptop won’t matter once a virus breaks our software/hard drive.

It may take a lifetime to unload all of my stuff that I’ve hidden for so long, but I can do it little by little, bag by bag.

Because if it made my home feel so much bigger, imagine what it’ll do for my heart.

Originally published on the author’s blog

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Whitney Ballard

Whitney Ballard is a writer and mom advocate from small town Alabama. She owns the Trains and Tantrums blog, where she writes about motherhood, marriage, mental health, and more. Whitney went from becoming a mom at sixteen to holing a Master’s degree; she writes about that journey, along with daily life, through a Christian lens. When she’s not writing while on her porch swing or cheering/yelling at the ballpark, you’ll find her in the backyard with her husband, two boys, and two dogs.

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