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Earth Etude for Elul 28: When One Door Closes, Another Opens

by Joan Rachin

Like many of a certain age, my husband and I had decided to downsize, but unlike many others, ours was less a choice and more a necessity following his stroke two+ years ago. We loved our town, neighborhood, and street and had been making plans to “age in place” before life intervened.

As I began to survey the overwhelming task ahead, it was clear that my obsession with helping preserve what pristineness remained in nature had become disconnected from my personal behavior of “littering” our home. My husband gently commented that the books (e.g., “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” “Clear Your Clutter,” and “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”) sitting atop our ubiquitous piles of “stuff” were symbols of that disconnectedness.

I rationalized the presence of this “stuff” by explaining to myself and others that it included gifts from beloved grandparents, parents, other family members, and friends; souvenirs from travels; memorabilia from childhood and beyond; cards, letters, and miscellaneous paperwork that had to be filed; and/or cherished mementos of the years in which we raised our kids. I had managed to ignore the fact that—despite an object’s back-story and despite my self-proclaimed status as an environmental activist—I had become a “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrite. Although I’ve encouraged many others to read Affluenza over the past 20 years, I never admitted to having an undiagnosed case of that planet-crushing disease.

With help from friends and a downsizing professional, our house was emptied and most of our possessions donated to organizations* and individuals. Though bittersweet, my dominant emotion is gratitude for the four+ decades we spent there, the sweet memories that remain, and the opportunity to tread more lightly on the Earth presented by closing the door to our old home and opening the door to our new one.

I therefore entered Elul with the kavannah, or intention, of following the sage advice on my fridge magnet: “The most important things in life are not things.” I’m focusing on progress, not perfection and hoping that my previously overzealous efforts to prevent things from being buried (landfills) or burned (incinerators) will be replaced by the realization that I am doing the best I can and my efforts are good enough. Although not a big fan of self-help books, I’ve just begun listening to Enoughness, which emphasizes sustainability and contentedness and, when finished, plan to start A Good-Enough Life. 

I pray that I will, with mindfulness and discipline, increase the simplicity and balance in my soul, home, and in my microscopic corner of our shared home, Planet Earth. 

Here’s to a safe, healthy, just, peaceful, purposeful, and “enoughness-filled” New Year for all. 

Shana Tova U’Metuka.*Below is a partial list of the organizations to which we donated:

1 – More Than Words

2 – Boomerang’s

3 – Mass College of Art ReStore

4 – Furnishing Hope of MA

5 – Simple Recycling

6 – Village Vinyl

7 – Our Facebook “Buy Nothing” group (Buy Nothing Brookline) was also helpful in finding homes for everything we no longer needed or wanted. We gave away golf clubs, old cameras, slide and movie projectors, furniture, encyclopedias (“More Than Words” does not take encyclopedias) and many other things.8 – I also donated collections of family memoirs, photos, and memorabilia to archives and museums. Although this was a time-consuming endeavor, it enabled me to find permanent homes for the treasures passed down through the generations of my family.

Joan Rachlin is the Executive Director Emerita of PRIM&R (Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research) an international bioethics organization. In addition to her work with PRIM&R, she practiced law in the areas of women’s health, civil rights, and criminal and civil litigation. Joan loves nature and its preservation is her priority, purpose, and passion.

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