Perception and Reality

There has been a noticeable shift in gears at our house in the past week and it has left me feeling the urge to clear out and simplify things. I had marked a date on the calendar for this activity, and yesterday was ‘the day!’ I am happy to say that my task is done, my good will offerings are delivered, and my abode is once again just the way I like it. Ah!!! Such sweet peace this gives me!

The words that follow were penned exactly one year ago for a magazine that I contribute to. The article was prompted after I learned a deep lesson about my own perceptions and how they create my world. This year, as I moved toward ‘clean-up day’ I kept my perceptions in check, and I am pleased to report that I never let my molehill masquerade as a mountain. Even though some of the particulars of the article below are outdated ( i.e. we had no kindergarten graduate in our house this year) the lesson within the larger message is timeless so it bears repeating.


Perception is reality- a saying that many of us have heard, but sometimes we forget how true and powerful this concept is.  I recently got a very strong reminder of it in my own life.

For the past 6 years life has felt like a bit of a whirlwind in our home. Let me give a few visuals to the whirlwind. In 2007, our third child was born.  Exactly ten days before his birth, our oldest son got his drivers permit.  I often laughingly recount my first day as a ‘passenger’ in the vehicle our firstborn was driving. There I sat, gingerly secured by a seat belt that fell just above a one week old cesarean  section incision- with an overconfident 15 ½ year old behind the wheel, an aloof fourteen year old daughter sitting behind me, and a screaming colicky newborn in a car seat next to her.  I felt like I had just been strapped into a roller coaster and that it was too late to get off. I was right. It was.

As the cadence of our life stayed at Mach speed, one of the things that really gave way in my life was the ability to keep my home organized.  I just didn’t have the time to be as fastidious as I normally was. The things I used to stay on top of- fell by the wayside. The interior state of our home was something that bothered me on a daily basis, and something that very much hindered my positive state of mind.

Fast forward to May of this year. As our youngest donned a cap and gown and took his kindergarten diploma in hand, I suddenly felt a space open up in our lives. I excitedly told my husband that something had shifted- life was going to take on a slower speed. He smiled at my enthusiasm, although he would later tell me that he wondered where it was springing from. Life was really not going to change in any verifiable way- kindergarten was just giving way to first grade. Nothing else was changing in any known way.

What had changed was my perception. For whatever reason, that kindergarten graduation signaled a changing of the guard deep within my psyche and I suddenly, for the first time in 6 years felt like I was empowered to tackle the disorganized home front that had been my ire. My goal for the summer was to clean out our house and get it back up to the standards of order that I was used to. I arranged my summer work schedule so that I could see all my clientele and still have two full days a week with no work duties at all. This would give me the time I needed to tackle this dastardly task.  As summer approached, at night I envisioned all of the piles of items I would leave out on our driveway for various charities. I hoped that our homeowners association would not mind the weekly piles that I knew would be there.   I wondered if I should forewarn them about the massive clean-up that would be going on at our house since our neighborhood rules are pretty strict.

In my head I had figured it would take me the entire summer to accomplish this task. I had 12 weeks and I intended on making good use of every one of those weeks. On the second Monday of June, after I dropped our youngest son off at his day camp I headed home to begin day one of my arduous task. I stood in our main hallway and surveyed the house. Which room should I begin on today? I chose a room and commenced with my mission.

As I began the cleaning process some amazing things happened.  There were insights, revelations, surrenders- all sorts of great psycho-emotional things occurring for me. Things that truly put the last 6 years in perspective. I became misty with emotion as I rifled through mementos of some of the more pivotal events of the prior 6 years. 

As a family we had witnessed first steps, first words, and first loves… two high school and one kindergarten graduation. We had lost a beloved Grandpop, an Aunt, an Uncle and two cousins to death. Eight wisdom teeth were pulled and one appendix was gone. My husband had changed careers and I had managed to write two books. There had been eight homecomings, four proms, one prom queen nomination, a championship basketball game, and a potty training. There was one middle of the night flee from a fire, and the resultant thousands of dollars in smoke damage to our home.  We had one celiac disease diagnosis that begot a pantry full of gluten-free foods that had to be tweaked to a five-year old palate.  We bid goodbye to the delight of watching our older kids compete in high school athletics, and welcomed in pee-wee soccer and little league.  Two children moved out, and one of them moved back in- and then moved out again. We endured piercings, tattoos, and temper tantrums. One child learned his ABC’s and two other’s declared their college majors.

I could really see the truth of it-  how this roller coaster we called life had been moving at break-neck speed… and I could see the strength and the beauty in how we rode it together each and every day.  As the momories whizzed by,  I could almost feel the wind blowing my hair back as my mind sped along with the last six years. It really had been quite a ride- and mementos of all of those beautiful memories were held in solid form in one way or another in the clutter I had spent the last six years detesting.  I tucked my head to my chest and continued on in my task. Like an architect I meticulously structured the interior of our home –in the way I feel it best holds and nurtures our family. I let go of the clutter but held tightly to every single memory…

Three and a half hours passed; I looked around and every single square inch of our home was perfectly organized, uncluttered, and just the way our home used to always look six years ago. My first emotion as I took in the view was intense pleasure, but my second was a mixture of humor and self-deprecation.  It took three and a half hours??!!! My perceptions for the last six years had told me there was an insurmountable amount of meaningless clutter in our home that would take the entire summer to tackle. I had cases of garbage bags waiting in queue…. I already knew what I was going to tell the HOA when they complained about all of the neat bags lined up on our driveway week after week… 

As I looked around our now pristine home my perceptions got very quiet while reality began to shout. Reality told me this; the whole house clutter that needed to be done away with  was contained in six garbage bags that took up about 3 square feet of our hallway- it did not spill out of the house and onto the street as it had in my mind. The immense amount of paperwork on my desk that needed to be organized, and filed, and would take three months to go through, sat neatly on my desk in a pile that was no more than a quarter of an inch thick. The litany of objects that needed to be re-homed and would require lots of calls to various charities and scheduled drop offs etc.-  were easily whisked away that day by my son- and they all fit neatly in the back of his SUV.

My perceptions had held me hostage- and my state of mind had reflected this.  I perceived my life to be cluttered and unkempt, therefore it was. After spending some time with my clutter and finding meaning in it- something had changed. I learned that both the clean and the clutter depend largely on my state of mind. Did all of the clutter really go away, or had perhaps my perceptions of the clutter shifted just enough to change what I saw? Who knows- I only know that my house feels like home, and my life feels really good right now.

Perception is reality. I teach it, I preach it, and I try to live it, but in this instance I fell short. I realize now, the overflowing clutter was all in my head- although the feeling that I was on a roller coaster was still pretty accurate!