Lessons from Cancer (Part 1): Cleaning Out of Clutter (L.f.C.)

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When I first heard the words, “It’s pancreatic cancer,” come out of my Mom’s mouth through the receiver on the telephone, I was beyond words. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the next few months were going to be filled with uncertainty, tears, ups and downs, and new challenges we had never faced before. Shortly after I came to realization I also understood that with these challenges would come some of the most important lessons I have learned in my life. This brings me to the first of a series I am calling, “Lessons From Cancer,” where I will highlight the biggest lessons that cancer has brought into my life and the life of my family. My hope in doing this is one, to show anyone fighting this same fight that they are not alone. I also hope to use this difficult time to help inspire others to focus on what truly matters in life and let go of the insignificant. Ultimately, these posts will serve as a way for me to vent, share with the world what I discover, and put them down somewhere where I can always come back to remind myself of these wonderful lessons that are coming in a very difficult time. Now let’s start with… Cleaning Out The Clutter.

When I arrived home for Thanksgiving break my mom was proudly detailing her accomplishments in recently cleaning out the hall closet as well as her own personal closet. As I said in an earlier entry, one of the many blessings from cancer is that it reminds you to celebrate the little things and the simple fact that my mom is able to run around the house all day and clean is both exciting and a cause for celebration! At this point it had been almost 9 weeks of chemotherapy and the progress she has made is nothing short of astounding. She is even driving short distances again by herself!

After celebrating and praising Mom for her wonderful accomplishments, we all felt a wave of inspiration rush over us so my brother and I immediately went upstairs and cleaned out our closets. Bag upon bag of clothes was assembled in a big pile on the floor (which you can see in the picture at the beginning of this post) as it quickly became shockingly obvious just how many things we were hanging onto that frankly, hadn’t been used in years! We all have attachments: mental, physical, and emotional to the things we accrue in our lives. What is unfortunate is that we spend so much time accruing but we end up never letting go and through it all we find ourselves with more things to manage, organize, clean, sort, and maintain. This does nothing but bring stress into our lives and also makes it incredibly difficult to find what you are searching for!

During our sorting session we collected 13 bags of clothing to donate to the Salvation Army as well as Boys and Girls Club of America. 13 trash bags full of perfectly good clothes that were sitting in our closets! There were brief moments of nostalgia that had each of us holding on to an old shirt from high school or a jersey that was worn once then spent the rest of its life on a hanger having the typical thoughts most have when they are afraid to let something go. “This was a gift, it would be rude to throw it away,” or “What if a situation comes up where I need my _________ (insert insanely random thing that somehow has spent years in your closet) and I don’t have it!”

When you have these thoughts, ask yourself one question, “Is there someone out there who would be thrilled to have this (shirt, pair of pants, old winter coat, blanket, etc.)?” Another great question to ask is one that I picked up from the book, “The Happiness Project,” by Gretchen Rubin (the book can be found at the link below):


Gretchen was working to reduce the clutter in her life and found she was somewhat of a hoarder, so it came down to an ultimatum. “Have I worn/used this in the past year?” If the answer was no, donated or trashed. If the answer was yes, then she would ask herself honestly if she ever would wear it again and make a decision from there. I know that the feather boa that you wore to that party 15 years ago, “may come in handy again,” but trust me, it’s probably time to let that go.

This cleaning spurred a great deal of other activities as we started preparing for Christmas. I was happy to be home to be able to carry box after box up from the basement but once they were all amassed in the dining room (with some spilling over into the kitchen and entry way) we couldn’t believe just how much we truly had. When it is buried in the basement, out of sight out of mind, we often forget just how much junk resides within the walls of our homes. The concept of out of sight out of mind usually only comes with one piece, out of sight. I know many people (myself included) that have the thought lingering in their mind for years (I should clean up the basement, one day I am going to clean out my closet) but the day never comes. This can wear on you emotionally and also reduce your confidence in your own abilities to keep the promises you make to yourself.

My Mom said to me, “When I saw all the space and how clean it was downstairs, I never want to bring the stuff back down there again.” With that being said, so began clutter removal step two.

We went through the same process, donating and junking old Christmas things, which admittedly was more difficult considering we are a family who loves Christmas and cherishes the memories we have shared during this magical time of year. But even my mom, who will always view me as her baby boy, was ready to let go of some old, hand crafted ornaments made in my childhood. As much as I appreciate her hanging onto a macaroni wreath and drawing that needed an arrow pointing to “Santa,” so anyone could identify what the amoeba was standing next to the pointy Christmas tree, I was happy to see many of them go.  Although difficult, she knew it was time to move on and embrace both today and the future.

When all was said and done, we had (no exaggeration) a total of about 10 more trash bags (23 total), 5 boxes of odds and ends to donate and something like 20 trash bags to be left on the curb to be picked up by the garbage men on Wednesday. Can you believe all that stuff was just sitting in our house collecting dust when it could have been out in the world being repurposed and reused? Someone out there would kill to have my old tattered hoodie or that pair of sweat pants I never wore. I hope that my dress shirt that I received (still in the box, pins and all) goes to a young man or lady who is looking for their first job and that shirt helps give them the confidence to walk proudly into their interview and get their first job.

The Lesson:

This may be the longest post I have ever written but it is for good reason. The lesson in this is something that anyone can apply to their life and use to start making their life free of clutter, stress, and worry today.

The lesson is simply this, it is our choice whether or not we allow clutter to stay in our lives. As I am sure you have already realized, clutter is far more than the old pair of hockey skates and stack of newspapers sitting in the garage. Clutter can come in the form of emotional baggage, things we’re afraid to let go of, mistakes we dwell on.

With all of these things, it is our choice whether we allow them to stay in our life or not.

So what is the secret to clearing out the clutter? How can you start to declutter your life, your mind, and your soul?

Start with small steps every day. Every day set one, super small, manageable goal. Almost so small that it might seem ridiculous to set the bar so low. The intent here is to just get you started on the journey (often the hardest part in any change). What you will find is when you decide that today’s goal is to clean off the kitchen counter, or clear out the bottom section of the shelf in the garage, or simply clear out one drawer in your office, that small success will inspire and excite you to continue to do more! Once the ball gets rolling the effect of continued successes is intoxicating and has a tremendously positive effect on your life!

Doing this daily and starting with small goals gives  you the satisfaction of knowing no matter how difficult a day is, you have succeeded at your own little goal and can take great pride in that.  This won’t take any extra time out of your day (considering we waste a great deal of our time with non-sense), but will have you moving towards a wonderfully positive goal of a clear house (mind, body, soul).

Once the clutter is gone, you will find a sense of clarity, a release of stress and anxiety, and a feeling of accomplishment that you were able to help others while helping yourself. You will be able to find what is necessary, you will have only the things that really matter to you, and ultimately you will have redefined the difference between “need” and “want” in your life. You will find through this process that what you truly need is much less than what you think right now. What it really comes down to is family and love.

This is the first post in this series and as the lessons continue rolling in I will do my best to use my family’s experience to help all of you out there who I am so thankful to have reading my blog. May God be with you today and always, let today be the day you take that first small step towards the life you envision in your mind.


Mom, thank you for helping me to continue to grow and challenge myself to be better. Also, thank you for constantly reminding me that giving back is one of the things that makes me happiest in the world. I love you, Dad, and Evan, with all of my heart.

I will see you soon and can’t wait for Christmas!



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