The last five percent

Whenever I move houses – and I do so very frequently for professional reasons – I strive to turn my new place into a real home, my home, as quickly as I can. Last time around I set a new record: I finished the whole thing in just two days of intensive laboring – except for the last five percent. It’s the last boxes that don’t get unpacked. The one or two lamps that don’t get put up. The shoe cabinet that never gets assembled. I don’t know why. I always end up not finishing the last five percent.

The weirdest thing is that this is now also happening to my decluttering project. I did the main bulk of hard work within just a matter of days. I pretty much finished my guest room and am almost done with my basement – except for the last five percent.

It’s like there is a little voice within me telling me to stop at an invisible border, ridiculously close to the finishing line. And I just cannot seem to find a way to just cross it. I’ve been tiptoeing around the last bag of old documents and photos that need filing forever. Old mobile phones await erasing and recycling. My book piles need some thinning out. Two huge bags of papers are ready for shredding.

FiveThink about it: five percent of the original five percent of a one-hundred-percent household actually equal less than one percent out of the original one hundred percent. So, technically, this time I am not even procrastinating on the last five, but on less than the last one percent. And yet I cannot persuade myself to do it.

I don’t have a rational explanation for it, except maybe that those last five percent represent the final act of letting go. Of the things I vowed to let go of: Pain and hurts of the past. The documents I found are rental contracts from houses I lived in with my ex. The photos are photos from our last holidays. The innocent-looking piles of books contain travel guides to places we visited together. The old mobile phones preserve some snapshots of us and old text messages. No pieces of art. Just moments of shared history.

This stuff caught me by surprise. In my guest room I knew what to expect. I knew the boxes to avoid. The ones I just merged and put into one larger box without really looking at their content. In the basement, however, I was ambushed by boxes I didn’t even remember existed. When I opened them, my memories hit me with full force and totally without warning. Like the ball you don’t see coming. The one that hits you straight in the face. Or the pit of your stomach. There is just no time to dodge it.

So you take the blow – and time stops for a little while. While you bend over in pain and stop breathing for what feels like eternity. In reality it’s only a matter of a few seconds. But you go through them in slow motion. As if they were an experience worth prolonging. And you so know they are not.

On the flip-side of all of this procrastination is that, in my desperate attempt to avoid those last five percent, I have found a whole lot of activities that suddenly very urgently need doing: I bought organizers and decluttered and rearranged all of my kitchen drawers’ contents. I got some new herbs and planted them on my terrace, basil and sage, in case you wondered, both of them doing really well. I check on them every day and sit by their side. For quite some time.

I’m also contemplating growing my own wheatgrass to add to my daily, freshly squeezed morning juice. What the heck, I might plant three whole rows of herbs – parsley, dill, coriander! And why not add a few strawberries, too? I could also oil my terrace planks. They do look a bit sad. What’s the point of planting new herbs when the planks are all grey and green from years of suffering through the seasons and all sorts of precipitation?

I’ve chastised myself for this blatant procrastination for two weeks now. Neither did I do the last five percent, not did I allow myself to plant the three rows of herbs or oil the planks. I kind of thought I needed to stick to the order of things on my to-do list. Old habits die hard…

Today I changed my mind.

While keeping my basil and sage company, it hit me: Pain has a way of taking all the time it needs to process. It will only leave you alone once you stop avoiding it, welcome it in for a chat, look it straight into the eye and make peace with the loss that it is there to remind you of. It asks you to grieve, as long as it takes. Not to put a plaster on, or numb the agony, or fill the hole, or rush through the process. It asks you, quietly but very persistently, to LET GO when and only when you are truly ready to do so.

Until you do, your pain will linger.

And so will the last five percent.

So given that I cannot rush the process anyhow, I might just as well plant my rows of herbs and oil my terrace planks and whatever fancy ideas my inner procrastinator might come up with. It may not speed up the process but it sure will make my home even nicer and the time spent grieving just a little bit more pleasant.

Totally nothing wrong with that, isn’t it?!



Feature image designed by dooder / Freepik


7 thoughts on “The last five percent

  1. Elegantly written. I appreciate your insights into why we sometimes might hold on to things and on facing and letting go of pain.

    Liked by 1 person

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