Living Simply After Cancer


Breast cancer survivor and clutter-clearing author says live more simply to simply live by getting rid of clutter.

Are you feeling more brittle since cancer? Maybe more emotionally fragile? Why is it hard for many of us to purge clutter or to contemplate moving to downsize? Why did my grandpa cry when he sold his Arizona condo and had his own estate sale so he could move back to the city he loved? If he hadn’t, he would not have married his third wife, so yes, it was the right choice. Still, this stuff is hard, especially after cancer has already challenged and changed your life.

Our status quo is comfortable and familiar and we are societally trained to accumulate. We even have pride in our accumulation — look at my large shiny pile! (And I found all of it on sale!) We are trained that everything “should” just keep getting bigger and better as life goes on—from closet space to vehicles. This is just not true. As cancer survivors, we know what is important.

The reality is that there are trade-offs. Trade-offs always come with change. We get a bigger house, but maybe the neighbors are not as friendly. We get a lake view, but maybe the houses on either side of us are much closer than previously. Even when we downsize and simplify, we discover there are things we miss about our larger home. Trade-offs are reality, but change or being able to makes changes is healthy.

First, we get to work through fear (again). We have fears about forgetting memories associated with a location, even if that location or home has outlived its usefulness for us. Remember, there are always alternatives to hanging on to items that have memories attached to them. You could take photos of them, journal about them or attach a note card to an item if saving it for children.

You know this. Stuff is often fun to acquire, but less fun to store and maintain and even more difficult to release. Reality check: we can't take it with us when we go. Plus, usually our children don't or won't want it. Most of the memories go away when we go away: even our loved ones who carry our memories will pass on in a few decades too. Downsizing and weeding out are major switching gears and changing of direction for us. Still, most of us find that reducing calms the disturbance of too much stuff. Peace does not come from quantity. Survivors know this in their hearts.

Having less frees you to focus on priorities, and it won’t leave our children a mess to clean up. Think for a moment about priorities: What do you dream of seeing, doing or experiencing? Do you want to spend more time with people rather than spend it maintaining? Ponder how your stuff and current situation may be holding you back.

There is really so little that we need to live. Fewer games, toys, books, clothing, cooking stuff. I found happiness at the cabin comes from less not more, from quiet not noise, from open space not clutter, from less housework not more, from maintenance-free not more to maintain. Even peaceful puttering beats frantic busyness, and completing a finite to-do list is more satisfying than working on an unending one.

Change is difficult, but often worthwhile. I am still struggling with our recent downsizing changes and I would not go back to the way it was before. I would not want to miss out on the new people we have met and the new adventures we have had.

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