Personal Retreat Action Plan

A Personal Retreat is an act of self-love and self-care. It’s a gift to yourself. It can be long or short. A couple of hours alone on a park bench, or an overnight in a fancy hotel, or several days in a location important to you (like I did).

When I decided to do a Personal Retreat, I wanted to make sure I accomplished what I set out to do.  First, I identified what I wanted to get out of it::

  • recharge – set life in a new direction
  • get unstuck – reconnect with myself
  • revisit goals – find new insights
  • brainstorm solutions – get clarity
  • transformation

I wanted space to rejuvenate, recollect, and reflect on life, on the past, and on my future.

I identified the main transformative activities I would do:

  • Reading
  • Journaling
  • Mediation/prayer
  • Gratitude
  • Walking

I brought with me a book that I wanted to work through that focused on personal change, a large blank sketchbook for notes and doodles and whatever, healthy food (the place I stayed had a microwave and fridge in the room so I didn’t have to interrupt my retreat to go off in search of food in town).

I roughly outlined my days with time for reading, time for reflection, time for physical activity (walking/hiking the trails and the long driveway of the ranch), and time for fun (horseback riding!).  I alternated transformative practice with relaxation and physical activity.’

After the retreat, I wanted to come up with an Action Plan of how to live out any new ideas or new intentions, but that wasn’t really something I could plan ahead, since I didn’t know what sorts of transformations or ideas were going to come out of the experience.

Now I plan to do a check-in with myself after a week of being home.  That will be tomorrow night.

Taking a Personal Retreat isn’t complicated. It just takes a little planning and thinking ahead. For myself, I think choosing the book to work through might have been the hardest part, but in this circumstance I’d already found the book and had started the process at home. The location was easy for me and sort of presented itself. I’d say trust your intuition about where you could go for some serenity and space for reflection.

If you take a Personal Retreat, I hope you find it beneficial and enlightening.

A personal retreat

I’d been feeling restless. My job is just a job. I kept sensing there’s something more I could be doing that would bring more fulfillment or more … something. Partly, I knew I needed a vacation, so I scheduled two weeks off.

And then the idea came to me to take a short Personal Retreat. A time of focus, and questions, and maybe even some answers (if I got lucky).

The horse camp I went to as a kid has become a guest ranch for anyone, so I decided to take a trip back in time and spend three nights at Flying Horseshoe Ranch in Cle Elum, Washington.

I had a book I’d planned to work through (Something More by Sarah ban Breathnach). I brought a big blank sketchbook for notes, doodles, whatever. I brought simple food I could heat up in the in-room microwave so I didn’t have to worry about scrounging for food in town. Brought along CDs of a favorite poet/teacher to listen to in the car.

It was an interesting time. Peace and quiet. Heartache and joy. Physical pain (my bad hip didn’t care for horseback riding). I have a notebook now with lots of thoughts outlined for further reflection. I didn’t know when I started this process how many answers I’d have at the end of the Retreat, or if I’d just end up with further questions. Now looking back, I think it’s a little of both. I feel some sense of direction, but there are many details to figure out.

Coming home, I felt rejuvenated, but also exhausted. I took a good nap, hung out with my cats, and spent some time on my back deck working more in my notebook. I want to bring some of the Retreat habits back home with me. I don’t want to lose the momentum that started with this time away. It’ll be interesting to see what the long term effects are from this time of concentrated reflection and self-care.

Over the next week, I’m going to share more about the practical how-to steps I followed for my personal retreat, and I’ll also share a few of the insights and answers I received. Honestly, I hope it’s just the beginning of an on-going journey and exploration.

A long pilgrimage away from yourself

I found this in a little notebook where I’d been keeping notes on things I’d read. I don’t know what this is. Is it phrases I liked from a book? It doesn’t seem to make enough sense enough to be a poem of its own. It’s sort of poetic feeling, though. It’s super intriguing to me and a bit weird that I don’t know where it came from or what its intent was. Dream writing? It is definitely written in my handwriting. Well, just to give it some sort of sense, I’ll call it a poem. Here’s the unknown mystery “poem” that I stumbled upon today.

a long pilgrimage away from yourself
appreciate someone when they’re gone from your life
come into your body of change
you’ve seen the light
looked into stone as a strong sturdy rock
be weathered by what comes to you
imprisonment of the human spirit
sheltering beauty
wild horizon
creates the essentiality
astonished at the place you grew
dedicates himself
takes half-a-step braver step
house of high thinking and simple things
imprisoning necessity
to the brim my heart was full
walk in blessedness
a dedicated spirit
magnificent morning light
my heart was full
sinning greatly
what horizon is there
devilish version of self
in Biblical times
saw it for the first time
a strangled scream
ascended into new life
an uncaring invitation
panicked quivering arms
like extras from the Bible
wide-eyed and singing
the books beneath the conversation
one short step away
a door of revelation
brutally honest spiritual warrior
foundational truth
grounded in humility and humiliation
keep loss and heartache at bay
the outer diagnostic
no realistic choice
the path of vulnerability
asking for the help you need along the way
humble compassion
apprentice to understanding
obeying the earth
the give and take of the sea
moonlit shadow
a pale whispering face
waking joy
it always had to break your heart along the way
walking far outside yourself
a prayer for safe arrival
the heart, the mind, the promise
more marvelous
a simple reflection
the road stretching on
the road seen
the road dropping away
take your promise from you
the dwelling place you lived
another invitation
a field of freedom
the road stretching on

What is the intent of the room?

I just read/skimmed another book on decluttering. “Declutter Like a Mother.” Funny title. 🙂

Anyway, she had one idea that sort of revolutionized part of my decluttering project. She said before you do anything with a room, take some time to identify what your intent is for the room. How do you want to use it when everything’s done? And then keep that intention in mind as you’re decluttering.

Since I won’t be using the current rooms in my house after I declutter (I’ll be moving), it didn’t really apply to my current situation. But then I thought about the intentions I have for the rooms in my future house. And suddenly the two rooms that were going to be my office and a spare bedroom changed entirely. I realized I wanted the office space to be solely for work-related things so I can close the door and be done with it all at the end of the day. The other room I want to use for more than a guest room. I want to use it for art/crafts, sewing, reading. I want to make it cute and cozy. I want to put a hide-a-bed or futon in there so it can be used for guests as needed, but I don’t need an entire room set aside for guests since I rarely have anyone sleep over.

Just that idea of “intention” for a room really transformed my thinking. It also has changed the decluttering process on this end, too. When thinking about the intention of the rooms at the new place, I realized I can part with the queen-sized bed that’s currently in the guest room since I’m going to be using a hide-e-bed instead. I can keep a desk I was going to part with because now I’m going to use it as a craft table. I have chair that was going to go away, but now I want to keep it as a reading chair in the craft/activity room.

I didn’t really get a lot of new ideas for this particular book, but just finding one idea that’s helpful like this is definitely worth checking it out from the library.

Comfort List

I’m not on a diet (currently), but I am trying to redefine my relationship with food.  For example, I tend to go to food for comfort rather than just for sustenance.  If I’m depressed or lonely or anxious, I reach for some ice cream or pizza or a big bowl of buttered popcorn.

When I talked to a friend about my tendency to use food as comfort, she had an idea.  Make a list of things and activities that bring me comfort, and then try to add more of those things into my daily life.  I can also pull out the list whenever I find myself about to turn to food for comfort.

I think it might be an excellent idea.

Here’s my first draft of my Comfort List.  I’m sure there are more things to come as I have time to mull it over.

  • Nature walks
  • books
  • cats
  • photography
  • collaging
  • naps
  • movies
  • lunch dates
  • birds
  • prayer/meditation
  • writing

So next time instead of grabbing a carton of ice cream, maybe I could grab a soft, furry, purring cat.  Or write a poem.  Or read a chapter in whatever book I’m reading.

Also, I made a list of the foods I turn to for comfort and cleared them out of the house.  In the past, that wouldn’t have stopped me from eating the items.  It just meant I’d make an emergency run to the store or to Dairy Queen.  Now, before I run to the store, I’ll try turning to my Comfort List.  We’ll see if it makes a difference.

What happens to our stuff?

I read a short story recently where one of the characters, an older woman, had a spare room where she kept much loved items that friends — who were downsizing or moving to nursing facilities — gave to her for safe keeping.  Things they didn’t want falling into the hands of people who wouldn’t appreciate the specialness of these items.  This woman had a room that was full of other people’s cabinets and collections and curios and china.,

While I’ve been decluttering, I’ve realized that I’ve become the keeper of the family “things.”  Furniture, musical instruments, china, photographs, books.  I don’t want to become the woman in the story with the room dedicated to polishing someone else’s keepsakes.  This story gave me food for thought.  What is worth keeping?  I’ve already decided I want to clear out my excess stuff so people who come after me don’t have to make decisions about what to do with my things.  But what do I do with the things I’ve accumulated that have meaning to me, but maybe not enough meaning to keep hauling them from one house to another.

Interesting how random things like this short story I stumbled upon will pop up at opportune moments.

Spring Decluttering

I read a short article today about how Spring Decluttering is a good way to begin Spring Cleaning.  The less stuff we own, the less stuff we need to clean.

As you know, if you’ve been following this blog or my Facebook page, I’m in the midst of a big decluttering spree in preparation for moving to a smaller house.  If you’re not preparing to downsize and just like the idea of getting rid of some household clutter, I have a couple of quick suggestions.

Start with the areas of the house where you spend the most time.  For example, the living room and the kitchen.  Clearing out clutter from the most used areas will give you a feeling of freshness and lightness right away.  If you start with somewhere closed off, like a basement or storage room, the door can be closed, and all your hard work is hidden.  Wait before you tackle the office or attic.  Start with the visible areas.

If you’re starting in the living room, try starting with decorations, DVDs, CDs, books, and coffee-table clutter.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do I need it?
  2. Do I love it?
  3. Why do I have it?
  4. What would I do if didn’t have it?

Spring decluttering is a great way to begin Spring cleaning.

No Longer Paralyzed to Declutter

When I realized I was going to be moving into a smaller home, I looked around at my rooms full of things and felt overwhelmed.  I’ve lived in this house for more than fifteen years.  A variety of people have come and gone, leaving behind things that I never knew what to do with.

Looking at my houseful of stuff, I’d sometimes felt paralyzed and even guilty.  I’d thought that I “should” have kept from accumulating so many things.  I “should” have been better at letting things go.  Shame.  Embarrassment.  Frozen.

But now, instead of just feeling general embarrassment and overwhelm, preparing for the new home and the new life it would bring became something that somehow freed me from the guilt and shame.  It’s just stuff.  Now I just need to sort through it all and figure out what is going to make the move with me, and what’s going to go to a donation bin to make someone else happy.

I don’t want to be weighted down with junk.  In my home, I want the freedom and space to create.  I want a home that is welcoming and that I share with visitors without shame.  I want to be nurtured by my home.  I want it to be livable and clean.  I want to be content with where I am, and content with what I have.

I’d read an article about Swedish Death Cleaning, and had decided, in many ways, that was what I was preparing to do.  Paring my things down so that those people who come after me won’t have a huge task of going through my belongings after I’m gone.  Not only will things be lighter for me now, my collection of “stuff” will be lighter for others later.

Since I had a year to prepare for the move, I felt the freedom to take my time, go slow, and do it well.  We’re two months into that year and I’ve accomplished quite a bit in three rooms of the house.  No room is finished yet, but they’re getting closer.

Part of me wants to dive in and go crazy and get it done quickly, but I know myself.  I would just end up burned out and then find myself not wanting to finish.  And because there is a set time frame for moving, this is a job that has to be finished.  I don’t have the option to get burned out and save it for another day.

I think it’s important when undertaking a decluttering job of this magnitude, to keep in mind your own personality type.  Some people need a big project that they can dive into and get done quickly.  Others need to bite off bits and pieces of the project so as not to get overwhelmed.  One of the things I try to tell myself when I work a little bit on this big project is, “Whatever I do — right now, today — is an improvement, and a step in the right direction.”

I also find it’s helpful to try to do away with the sense that I need to do this the “right” way.  I just need to get on with it.  Muddle my way through.  There are so many books out there on decluttering and homemaking, that it can get easy to get locked into thinking there’s only one way to accomplish this process, and every other way is “wrong.”  For example, I’ve learned a lot from people like FlyLady and Marie Kondo.  I use many of their techniques and find them helpful.  BUT I also know that I need to adapt their ideas to fit with me and my own tendencies and personality in order to bring about lasting change and success.

I took some time out from decluttering this week to read a book called Declutter by Debora Robertson.  I found it inspiring in the sections on actual decluttering, but a big part of the book was about homemaking and how to keep your house clean.  Which really didn’t apply to my undertaking.  I realized that my project of downsizing is a different sort of project than just choosing to declutter the house and keep it from getting overwhelmed.  My experience really is more of a Swedish Death Cleaning type of project.

If you’re wanting to declutter, do you think you’d do better by doing a little at a time, or doing one big push to accomplish a lot at once?  Are you looking to pare things down a little bit, or are you preparing for a complete overhaul, or a move to a smaller home?

Where to start with decluttering

When you find yourself looking at a clutter-filled home, or just trying to decide where to start with some minor decluttering, it can be overwhelming.  I was reading a short article the other day and the author mentioned that she starts her decluttering with easy things, things with little emotional attachment and things that aren’t buried too deeply in the clutter.

Some of the easy things I came up with for me are:

  1. Actual trash.  Do a quick trip around the house and empty all the wastebaskets and garbage cans.  There.  You did it. That’s a start.
  2. Expired items.  Medications, food, make-up.
  3. Extras/duplicates.  Extra coffee cups, unused handbags, pens, kitchen gadgets.
  4. Stuff you’ll never use.  Random spices, uncomfortable shoes, clothes that don’t fit, empty picture frames, containers without lids, lids without containers, junk drawer contents.
  5. Abandoned hobby supplies.  If you realized that you don’t like to crochet, there’s no need to keep everything related to an abandoned activity.
  6. Past phase of life.  If you’re keeping things because they represent an important past phase of your life, can you choose one or two items as a keepsake and donate/recycle the rest?
  7. Bad memories.  If you have things that trigger bad memories, let them go and make space for new memories and for a new life narrative.

I found while compiling this list, that there are two things that are going to be challenging for me and will require some serious thought.

The first is things related to the stage of life when I was authoring books, writing articles, and public speaking.  That stage is important to me, but no long representative of my life.  I plan on keeping at least one copy of each of my books and there’s a poster from a book signing at Barnes and Noble that’s meaningful to me.  Other than those items, is there really anything else I need to save?  How much of it is just clutter now?  It sometimes takes some serious thinking to discern what stays and what goes, what’s meaningful and what’s junk.

The other area that’s a struggle for me is all the books and notes and notebooks and other materials from when I went back to school to complete my degree and to earn a Master of Fine Arts in Poetics.  All of those resources represent many hours and literally years of work (not to mention a lot of money spent).  But do I hang on to them because they’re all meaningful to me, or is there a wise way to work my way through all of the stuff on my school shelf and part with some of it?

I’m definitely a work-in-progress when it comes to decluttering.  Do any of these “easy” decluttering idea seem difficult or overwhelming to you?