Clearing Out The Old

I am a pack rat, hoarder and collector extraordinaire of everything – paper, knick-knacks, and tchotchkes. All the things. You name it and it is likely somewhere in my place. I have collected things for years, for sentimental reasons, for I-think-I-might-need-this-later reasons, as well as for avoidance – throw it in a box and forget about it sort of avoidance. And it’s not just at home, my desk at work is a masterpiece of towering piles of paperwork, pens and an impressive selection of post it’s. There is an ongoing joke with a friend who is holding onto a Funko figurine for me – I can’t have it for my workspace until I can send her picture of a clear desk (she has had it for the last 3+ months).

Recently I decided that it was time to wipe the slate clean and start without all the stuff that’s always hanging around. Why? Well on a fall afternoon I had an ultrasound that was quickly followed by a mammogram and two biopsies. Two hours later I was heading back to work pretty sure that I would be getting a phone call from my GP in short order to schedule a meeting and let me know they had found breast cancer. Sure enough, at 9 A.M. the next morning I got the call asking me to come in and all I could think about was all the stuff around me, the same stuff I ignored day after day and figured I would get to ‘some time’ was all of sudden overwhelming. The same thing happened when I got home – I wasn’t quite ready to deal with the reality of the news I was pretty sure I would be getting the next day but maybe I could do something about all the stuff that was crowding around me in my bedroom, my kitchen and den.


In the past few weeks I’ve cleared out boxes and boxes of stuff at home, (some from university and also high school!). I found items I had forgotten about and items I thought were lost. I laughed, shared some pics on Facebook and then I let it all go. I sent boxes off to thrift shops, bags to recycling and many items went straight into the garbage. I did the same thing at work. Before going on leave, I cleared out paperwork I had been ignoring for the last 18 months. I finished up what I could and organized other stuff so when my co-workers would be filling in, they would know what was going on and would have the info they needed.

I don’t have a lot of control over what is happening in my life at the moment. And for someone who is a bit of a control freak in many ways, this is a challenge. I can read all I can read (except for Google, which is endless), I can talk to and email as many women as I have been able to who have tread this road before me but at the end of the day, all of that is knowledge and yes it helps but it doesn’t change or impact what is about to happen. I have breast cancer. I will have surgery and beyond that, I don’t yet know. I also don’t know what life will look like on the other side, and I don’t know how any of that will affect ME. This is a process that changes you and you are on a ride you can’t get off, you just have to see it through.


Having purged items that I have held onto for the last two decades has been incredibly freeing. It has opened space both physically and mentally, I can look around and be comfortable with where I am and not worry about the myriad things I am actively avoiding or have hanging over my head. Right now, I am as comfortable as I can be with the space I’m in. Will having a clean bedside table make the cancer better?  Unlikely, but it will allow me to have what I need where I need it. Not buried under who knows what, who knows where and causing an extra distraction or stress.

Over the years I have collected lots of things (I have hundreds of books) and while I will never be a minimalist, I’ve found some peace in having less, realizing that stuff doesn’t hold all my memories or safe places. I am about to head to the hospital and at the moment I can honestly say I am okay with where I am, and I am ready to take this step and see where it goes.  Not to mention when I get back to work, I know I will have my warrior princess on my desk because that clean desk picture finally got sent. – Michelle Tinling

Want more personal stories on living intentionally? Click here.

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