This article was originally published on May 11, 2011 as “Cleaning Out Your Closet.”
Several years ago a friend said to me, “You don’t seem like yourself lately. You don’t seem happy.” Later that night I took a good, long look in the mirror and admitted to myself that I understood what she meant. I didn’t know where the old me had gone; and more importantly, I didn’t know myself any more. I had lost what or who I was trying to become.
Soon after, that same friend suggested I make a list of the five things I wanted to be “when I grew up.” I’d never had someone ask me in such blunt, defined terms to list five goals. But that “Top Five” list soon began to light my path with the brightness of the North Star. It showed me the inconsistencies between who I was and who I hoped to become. It reminded me to think about what I like and what I want to be like. But most of all, that list allowed me to examine my cluttered life and begin the long process of cleaning my internal closet. Over the next year, with mounting confidence, I began to say to myself, “This goes, that stays. I used to love this, but I’ve gradually outgrown it.”
Create a Wish List
Years ago, when I sat down to create a “Top Five” list for my life, was the first time I really grabbed on to the idea that I could be different. And I could be better. I have come to believe that all women–and mothers–possess an imaginary room full of hopes and dreams. Late at night, or during those rare moments when we are blissfully alone and our thoughts are quiet, we might visit that secret room and admire the lovely view. But most of us don’t live there. We remain elbow deep in the details of real life and pretend such a room doesn’t exist. Our families need to see us striving towards personal goals. It is healthy, even crucial, for our children to view us as mothers and as individuals. So, start now. Write down your hopes and dreams. Brainstorm ways to accomplish them.
A central demand of living deliberately, of cutting a path through life to take you exactly where you want to be, is to be brave enough to season your real life with the stuff of your dreams. This can be a delicate process; it is all too easy for kids and family responsibilities to wrinkle and soil what we deem precious. But keep trying. It is within our power to become the sort of mother and woman we have always dreamed of being.
I think we could all benefit from cleaning out the closet every now and then to clarify what it is we are striving for, both as families and individuals.
Decide What No Longer Fits
While the past is important, we cannot allow it to taint the present. I had a friend who, after years of marriage, still obsessed about a college boyfriend who was the quintessential romantic. He knew how to celebrate a woman on Valentine’s Day, which is to say, her husband wasn’t doing great in that department. This couldn’t have been healthy for her or her marriage. I’ve also known women who idealize the glory days of past athletic or academic accomplishments. But again, these glory days were rehashed at the expense of their current life. After becoming mothers, they lost track of their past interests. All they were left with was scrapbooks, whose sole function seemed to be a record of happier times.
Certainly these scrapbooks are worth saving, but we need to let go of the parts of our life that no longer feel like a good fit. As you “clean out your closet,” decide what doesn’t fit and let it go. Let go of anything that isn’t a good fit now. If there are elements of your old life that you truly miss, think of healthy ways you can add them back in.
Patch and Repair
It is impossible to move forward with purpose, to have your eyes set on your North Star, if you are too busy admiring the shiny patina of other people’s lives and accomplishments. The need to patch and repair, to focus on our own strengths, is especially true when it comes to our talents and abilities. All around me I see mothers who seemingly have more patience, more self-discipline, greater spirituality. As I negotiate the process raising my children, the temptation to peek over the back fence is strong. Intellectually, I know other mothers don’t always get it right either. But sometimes it feels like I’m attempting a really hard recipe and my kitchen cupboards are bare.
But remember, every mother has attributes and strengths that can shape her children and family into something incredible. So take pride in your work. Get comfortable in your own skin. Change your recipe, and improvise. As you try to maximize your talents, instead of wishing you were given something else, your children will feel the unmistakable branding that binds families together. This is who we are. We like to do this. This is what it means to be a member of our family!
Put Everything In It’s Place:
With three little girls I sometimes feel like I’m living in a doll house, and one day I snapped. Grabbing a Cabbage Patch Doll off the floor I hollered, “Put your dolls away. NOW!” My daughter looked up at me and asked, “Where?” I didn’t realize we had dolls on their beds, in the play room, and in the basement…so of course I was tripping over them all day long because they really were literally all over the house.
Even if you have goals established, even if you’re running as fast as you can, you’re bound to trip if the details of your life are scattered underfoot. It’s impossible to live deliberately if you haven’t laid plans for your own success. So, make lists. Designate family responsibilities. Establish priorities. Set routines. Buy a plastic bin and get the metaphorical dolls out from under your feet. You have to smooth the path ahead in order to effectively move forward.
QUESTION: Which step of “cleaning out the closet” feels most relevant to your life right now?
CHALLENGE: Create a “Top Five” list or another, tangible record of your current goals.
Image by Amro at www.freedigitalphotos.net.
Enjoy Lauren’s blog at www.lauren-gillespie.blogspot.com
Thanks! I really need to make a list of what I want to be when I grow up.
Tiffany Sowby says
Very, very wise words. All concepts I ‘think’ I know, but I need the reminder that I need to work to MASTER them, not just know them! Thank you.
Grandma Honey says
This is exactly what I’m working on this week so thanks for the extra motivation!
Fantastic article. I’d love to see more!
Karen Brogden says
You are an inspiration.
Michelle L. says
I really loved this article! Thank you so much for the inspiring words and idea’s! I plan on making my list this week.
Isn’t having a wish list like having clothes that you ‘hope’ to fit into someday? Shouldn’t we be living in the present, instead of yearning for a calmer future? How do I accept and come to love my current position in life as a busy mom with no time for grand pursuits?
Lauren Gillespie says
I read your comment and think you make a good point. But I think it’s normal- and healthy- to yearn for a different kind of life. Like a life that includes more sleep, more alone time, and less diaper changing. And I don’t thinking wistfully looking forward to those luxuries necessarily undermines your current situation. By the time I finished graduate school I was so desperate to be out of that phase of life, to move on to a greener pasture that didn’t involve stressful deadlines, that I thought I’d never look back. But I did, and I still do. What a fabulous time of life graduate school was for me! I think the key to living deliberately is to honestly recognize what is good and what is hard about your current life, and lay plans for what you hope your life will look like as you move forward. I try really hard to see my own “wish list” in terms of real possibilities that might lay ahead rather than any depressing limitations of my current situation. That’s what keeps me moving forward, and hopeful. Life is long. And sometimes grand pursuits just take a really long time to realize. Thank you for your insightful comment, and good luck!
I wish everyone would read this article. What I hear from it is, “Challenge yourself. REALLY challenge yourself.” So many people fall into a conveyor belt life where they go through the motions of their current circumstances (be it a job, a marriage, raising growing kids) and they don’t do it deliberately with the same gusto they hopefully at least had in their teens and 20’s. It is vitally important that we continue to dream, or as you call it, have a “wish list.” We dreamed when we were younger and it kept us young! It kept us fresh and motivated, but sadly, we live in a culture that doesn’t celebrate aging, but mourns it. With each passing year we should become wiser, more virtuous, and more satisfied, not the opposite.
What a wonderful article!!! I am so inspired- thank you for your words and perspective…I want to use this for our learning circle soon- so much to discuss. 🙂
I appreciated this article. Thank you!
Follow up question/concern… I’ve read this article and others that encourage me to make my wish list, pursue my dreams, etc. But I don’t know what my dreams are anymore (aside from the dream of a clean house and the kids not fighting). I’m almost 40 and feel lost right now. I have a teen, a tween, and a toddler. I feel like I need to figure myself out.
Any tips on how to discover (or re-discover) your dreams and wishes?