Building a Garden, and Building Myself

Like most people, I have been home most of the spring and summer, and have found loads of projects that need doing around my house. By far, the most satisfying has been reimagining my outdoor spaces and building a garden that I can enjoy every day. What I did not plan on, however, and have found to be the most gratifying aspect of this project, is how building the garden has become a metaphor for building myself.

I am very fortunate to live in a small cottage-like home that I love. When I divorced nearly five years ago, I bought this house because it felt like home. Since then I have made it more and more my own. I can track my own healing by the amount of color I have introduced into each room, the boldness in which I now make changes, and the feelings of peace and contentment that surge in me sometimes as I count my many blessings in being here.

This summer I decided to put in three raised garden beds in the back, where I have my “crops” – tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, butternut squash, peppers, leeks, onions, and lettuce. Then I looked at the front yard, where the grass was kind of spotty and the perennial garden constrained, and I decided (with the enormous and generous help of my significant other) to create a real cottage garden, tearing up half my lawn and creating a beautiful space filled with ferns, hostas, and assorted flowering plants. It is a work in progress, but nearing completion, and I love it!

Here are a few lessons I have learned from building my garden and building myself:

  • Begin with what you have. When I moved in here four and half years ago, I knew I had made the right decision, but I was terrified of being on my own. That first year was a blur of mistakes, I am sure, but all necessary to healing and growing. Likewise, I have made numerous mistakes in the garden, but with each season I have learned more about how to nurture my plants (and nurture myself), and this year, the new garden space has been mostly filled with divided plants from other areas of the yard. Likewise, by nurturing what I have within me, I can feel my own growth and know that I much more now to offer others. What a wonderful feeling!
  • Accept the generosity of those around you. Accepting help from others has always been difficult for me, as most of my life has been spent in an environment where I felt like I had to prove my own worth by being productive at all times. One thing that I have learned in the process of building my garden, and building myself, is that it is more than okay to accept the help of others! Because of a knee injury a couple of months ago, my contribution to the building of this garden has basically to plan what I thought would look nice and then to point as my significant other so kindly cut the sod to make the garden bed, dug the holes and placed the plants in their new homes. Without his help, I would never been able to realize this garden space. Once my neighbors saw what we were doing, they generously contributed plants from their own gardens to help fill the large new space. It feels good to just accept their generosity in the spirit in which it is intended, and I am grateful.
  • Recognize that you and your garden are works in progress. Each year I recognize the progress that I have made – relearning who I am without the stress of an unhappy relationship and working on the parts of me that are less mature and frankly, not so pretty. Like my garden, I am a work in progress. Each season, I see plants that should be moved, changed, divided and shared. Each year, I see the same in myself. My garden will never be finished. At best, it will always need upkeep and care to maintain its beauty. I am likely to find other plants that I want to introduce which will require changes in what exists. The same is true for me. I will always need upkeep and care, and no matter what age I reach, I hope to always be willing and able to introduce new interests and things of beauty into my life.

Urge to Purge: Simple Strategies for Winter Cleaning

Sorting clothes by color or style helps you easily find the duplicates that can be donated.

Once the holiday decorations are put away, I am always by how much clutter I’ve shoved in drawers and closets. Like many others, as I put things back in order, I have a strong urge to purge. Why wait for spring? These long cold months provide the perfect opportunity for true winter cleaning!

Purging does not have to be as ruthless as Marie Kondo’s “tidying up” can feel, but it should follow the same principles. For example, the reason for doing it should be clear to you. In my case, I look at my winter clean-up from two perspectives: I am giving myself room and space for more good things to come into my life, and I am letting others have what I no longer use or need – I can part with things more easily if I think, “It is someone else’s turn for this now.”

By taking the time to be thoughtful in your approach, a winter clean-up can even be fun! Here are four simple strategies for an easier winter clean-up:

  1. Clean by category – Rather than trying to do your whole closet at once, try just going through one type of clothing. For example, sort through all your jeans or blouses. Pull everything from one category out and lay it on the bed or in a large enough space where you can see it all. It is easy to see the duplicates then and recognize patterns in your shopping that could help prevent clutter later. For example, when I did this recently I found I had 7 or 8 French marine type tops – the white ones with vertical navy blue stripes. Go figure! But now I am much more aware of how I am drawn to this style and can (hopefully) restrain myself when shopping.
  2. Clean by space – One source of embarrassment to me is how completely ridiculous my “junk” drawers are. I have four drawers in the kitchen that hold what some would call “junk”, though I can say that two are probably semi-organized. At least I know when I open them that I’ll be able to close them again, and that what is stored inside is there for a reason. The other two? Both are “catch-alls” – places where things I don’t know what to do with go to die. I have no doubt that there is a better way to organize all this stuff, so I will take all four drawers and empty them on the table, where I can sift through everything and organize it by drawer, and see what can go or be stored somewhere else entirely. My guess is that I’ll gain at least one whole drawer of space this way!
  3. Clean with fresh insight – I realized when I had some work on the house done recently that my most disorganized spaces had one thing in common. When I moved in four years ago, I had put things I didn’t know what to do with into cabinets or drawers wherever, resulting in certain storage areas where nothing could be found easily and nothing made sense. Rather than just reorganize what was there, I pulled it all out, and thought about each item, asking the questions, “Do I really need this? Will I use it? Can I live without it?’ I looked at what remained with fresh eyes and then rearranged it in the same spot or in places that made more sense, and where I was more likely to remember to use it!
  4. Clean with patience – Your home (and mine) did not become disorganized and cluttered overnight, and to expect it to become clean and uncluttered that quickly is to set yourself up for failure. Rather, use the long winter months to really look at your possessions, ask those three questions, make a trip or two to the Container Store for storage solutions that will work for you, and take a break when you need one. Make a game of it – a cup of cocoa, some music, and those junk drawers are waiting!