Editing a Life

Today’s guest post is by Darrelyn Saloom, a monthly regular here at NO RULES. You can read more of her guest posts here, or follow her on Twitter.

An odd thing happened to me when I finished collaborating on a memoir. I spent four years and two days (obsessively at times) writing, revising, and editing a manuscript. As soon as I typed the last line, I pushed away from the keyboard and began to edit my life.

The tiny farmhouse my husband and I raised three sons and lived in for fourteen years became vacant. We had continued to harvest the land but rented the house. Now it sat empty. We missed the old homestead and decided to renovate and turn it into a place to gather with family and friends. 

I filled the house with a mishmash of beloved things: embroidered curtains, iron beds, vintage quilts, new sheets, Franciscan plates, a farm table, rickety old chairs, tin lamps, a painted desk, and a mahogany bookcase. Some items I ordered on eBay, but mostly I scoured the back roads of Louisiana for antiques. 

 Inside-1.jpg  Inside-2.jpg

When the interior was nearly complete, I spent a night alone seeped in
memories. My husband stayed in what we now call “the big house” with the
cat and the dog. I slept in an iron captain’s bed and awoke to thunder
and a loud, drumming rain on the tin roof.

I flung open the curtains and hopped back in bed. I called my husband
and told him I never wanted to leave, that I yearned to sell the
3,000-square-foot house in the suburbs and move back to the
900-square-foot house on the farm. It didn’t take him long to agree. He
missed slinging hay and raking out stalls.

I’m not sure what has come over me. I’m selling most of my things or
giving them away. I only use about one third of what is stuffed in my
closets anyway. We are keeping the photos, family mementos, the clothing
we need, my husband’s guitars and amplifiers, our laptops and books.

As far as the rest of the stuff, I’m going to go through it the same way
I did every sentence of the manuscript—pluck out unnecessary items like
words. Delete the things that weigh down my life and keep me from
turning the page. It seems editing a life is not so different from
editing a book. 

Darrelyn is collaborating with Deirdre Gogarty on a memoir. Read more about their project here.

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36 thoughts on “Editing a Life

  1. Suzette

    Wow. After reading your essay last night I just had to revisit it this morning as I find it delightful and somehow comforting. It gives me an inner smile that feels like a sigh of relief, I guess because life is good and each chapter closed holds it’s own profound keepsake memories that graciously accompany us into the unknown excitement of what lies ahead. Even writing my comment was therapeutic. Now I’m off to figure out how I might post and share your sweet vignette 🙂
    Love you my friend.

  2. Suzette

    D, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. I’m having a similar experience. I’ve been in decluttering mode for months and it’s getting down to the nitty gritty stuff I can’t seem to deal with. I kept too many keepsakes, baby dolls, books and birthday/anniversary/holiday cards. Some days I want to close my eyes and hold my breath toss the bulk of it out. But I know I will go through each bit piece by piece again and either lovingly bid farewell or once again tuck it away for one more glimpse another time. Parting is sweet sorrow but memories aren’t completely contained in objects. Of course I’ll save the very most precious items and release the rest. I know I’ll get there. There comes a time to lighten even the sweetest load and I’m ready. We never went the way of the suburbs and our town cottage has stretched and to accommodate our family and now contracted now to relax as a cozy empty nest awaiting each visit of our precious grandbaby.. who by the way is enjoying a few lovely things I’m awfully glad I’ve kept 😉

  3. Carolyn Patin

    My friend Darrelyn,

    Good for you!

    You have chosen a subject matter close to my heart. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

    I have been editing my life for approximately 2 years and continue to do so. I have come to the conclusion, less is more. 🙂 It is called freedom! I am so tired of the stuff owning you, instead of you owning it. Excess stuff tends to choke you at a slow pace.

  4. cynthia newberry martin

    Well, you know I love this post. Until I read your words here, I never wondered where my impulse to cut away all but the most important was coming from. But perhaps it does come from writing.

    Still it’s so hard to do. Like I can’t do it a little bit–it’s got to be HUGE.

    I want to hear more about your project. And lots of details.

  5. Darrelyn Saloom

    Katy, I’ve know a couple of Keith Thibodeauxs through the years. Growing up, hubby was good friends with the Keith Thibodeaux who played Little Ricky on I Love Lucy. But I don’t know the gardener. Think I’ve seen him on facebook though. I’ll have to friend him.

  6. Katy Richard

    Oh yeah, we got bugs. The main thing I didn’t miss about living in New Hampshire, no roaches!! Do you know Keith Thibodeaux? He’s an awesome gardener….lives in New Iberia.

  7. Jason Hitt

    Very inspiring, Mrs. Darrelyn! I love hearing about people making changes in their lives with instant positive outcomes. I can tell that you and your family feel right at home at the farmhouse.
    Have a great weekend!

  8. Darrelyn Saloom

    Beverly and D.G., I will definitely check out your blog posts. Katy, I know your hubby is an excellent carpenter. I have two friends who do most of my work, but I’ll send you a message if they need an extra pair of hands. What I will need this fall is an expert Louisiana organic gardener to give me some tips. Need someone who understands how many bugs live in this state.

    I’ve sure enjoyed reading everyone’s wonderful comments.

  9. D.G. Hudson

    Darrelyn, Sorry can’t send the link via twitter, as I’m not on twitter nor Facebook. The blog is ‘DG Hudson – 21st Century Women’ (a celebration of women in this century and the issues they face).

    At the moment, two blogs and polishing a manuscript for a fall writing conference is my focus. You can copy and paste the URL in the address field to get there, but that may be too much trouble depending on what you’re using. Oh, well.

    I love those old stained glass windows in the photo. Good Luck with the move.

  10. Darrelyn Saloom

    Cindy, Funny you would say that because the vibes are great out here (boy are we showing our age!).

    Barbara, Such an amazing story. Your Nepali family and experience sound wonderful. I never learned to use eyeliner or kohl, but I sure sing, dance, and laugh a lot. I read in the WSJ that once you reach your basic needs (which vary from person to person and is expensive in this country) the happiness factor goes down, not up. I have nothing against money, it’s the responsibility of it that makes you slump. No doubt, the stuff I accumulated over the years began to feel like chains.

  11. Barbara Weibel

    My heart leaped for joy when I read this. Almost five years ago I sold my enormous house (at a loss) and sold or gave away most of my material possessions in favor of a life of perpetual travel. It was the most freeing thing I ever did. When my material possessions were whittled down to the very basic necessities it felt like an enormous weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I stood up straight for the first time in years.

    I am convinced that part of the problem with our country is the focus on stuff – the need to have a big house, the latest model car, designer clothes, expensive vacations and the like. Things often come at a cost that is much higher than the price tag: as we begin to work 60 hours a week to pay for those things, loss of family values insidiously creeps into our lives.

    I have just returned from another two months in Nepal (after having spent three months there last year), where I’ve been adopted by a wonderful Nepali family. I have never in my life felt or witnessed such unconditional love. This family of five lives in a small room, perhaps 6 feet by 9 feet, and the wife cooks on a two burner tabletop stove in a tiny concrete block enclosure. They have so little but they feed me twice a day and shower me with attention. Our evenings are spent sitting around a table where I help the kids with their English homework and they teach me Nepali. We dance, we sing, we laugh; the girls dress me up with kohl eyes and a kurta, the traditional women’s Nepali dress. We talk politics and history and natural healing, as the father is a yoga guru. And I ponder, as I often have as I wander the third world, that the people with the least in the way of material possessions seem to be the happiest.

    I am so glad you have found your happiness. You deserve every moment of it.

  12. Cindy Bullion

    Oh Darrelyn, I can just feel the good vibes of the farm in your words and the wonderful pictures. I think you and Danny have found your Bliss! I’m so happy for you! Lightening up is a good thing!

  13. Darrelyn Saloom

    Wow, Katy, I do love the farm and look forward to giving you a tour. I just need a couple of months to finish the work. Notice the pics only show the outside of the house. That’s because the front porch is rotten and needs rebuilding and the outside needs painting. Then we can bawl together.

    David Hunter, aka @TheWritersDen on Twitter. Thank you for the comment. I do feel lighter and may take off flying any minute.

  14. David Hunter

    Sometimes you just have to let things go; especially the inanimate and useless items we hang on to for eternity. Sometimes even the things you love need to go (Like my High School Graduation mug – sigh!). The accumulation of worldly possessions eventually weighs us down … be free I say!

    Wonderful post! Huzzah!

  15. Katy Richard

    What a touching post Darrelyn. I’m choking back tears actually, of joy for you, and well, just because I can feel the love popping off the page! I sure hope to visit you at the farm some day. Just don’t be surprised if I start bawling during the first tour. 🙂 love, katy

  16. Darrelyn Saloom

    So thrilled you enjoyed Jenny, DG, and Deirdre. Thank you for the kind words. Sorry if I put you to work, Jenny. D.G., your link did not work. I’d love to read your post. Could you send it to me on twitter? Deirdre, I happen to know your house is always neat and uncluttered. But I’m happy you enjoyed photos of the farm.

  17. Deirdre Gogarty

    Love the photos, especially the one looking out on the land with the tractor. What a beautiful piece of writing Darrelyn. One of your best. There is certainly a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, and peace, when we clear clutter and create space for the true beauty of living. Alas, for most, simplicity is totally underrated!

  18. D.G. Hudson

    Hi Darrelyn, I always seem to find a common thread with your posts, as do a lot of other readers. I went through a downsizing episode when we sold our 5 BR house with a huge yard (in which we raised two daughters). We had lived there for about 18 years, and I loved that house for all the memories it contained. But it became too big for us when the kids moved out.

    I wrote about it because I started packing in late winter thinking I’d been done by the summer. No Way. We both spent that nice hot summer packing and packing and packing. Also discarding. I posted about it at:


    I’m a packrat, so this was a cleansing experience. I’ve tried to follow that old rule about getting rid of something when you buy something new, but it doesn’t always work. I, like you, want things around me with history, something I can connect to. It’s an ongoing task.

    Love your posts, Darrelyn, and I thank Jane, too, for featuring you on this blog.

  19. Jenny

    Somehow, I never thought about editing my life. Your comparison of editing life to editing a book is brilliant.

    I got chills when I read, "…pluck out unnecessary items like words." I felt a weight being lifted from you as I read your words. I can see you floating around your farmhouse, free from everything superfluous.

    Best wishes on your new adventure in your old farmhouse. Enjoy this new chapter of your life as it unfolds.

    …I’m off to declutter my kitchen!

  20. shelly o'reilly

    what you have described here is a life in motion..Many times ppl get stuck in a certain lifestyle mode and become disheartened…Not knowing how to save themselves they seek refuge in anything presented…Not good!! I am older and seen many changes in my life and those I come in contact with….I notice the younger generation usually needs anew "anything" to get them interested and hold their attention…Boredom is not a word I know or can relate to…I think what you have done is actually "fought for your true self" here!! Never let go of what your roots have formed and made their lasting impressions….Be happy in your travels even if they take you back to "GO"…I love being this age but worry sometimes about those that are still struggling through life….Life should be lived daily!! Lessons come from the things we surround ourselves with and the ppl we let in!! I am happy I stumbled upon you today…. You made me smile; ty very much! truly a life being lived, Shelly

  21. Carrie

    I have seen this adorable farm house myself. I can feel the warmth and love that has been put into it. I can imagine all of the memories Darrelyn and her family have made.

  22. Jillian

    My dearest Darrelyn,

    What a beautiful new thought process for me to latch on to!

    With our beloved contemporary farmhouse on the market, each day brings new emotions. One day I am angry at my failure for not building the sustainable, small house I once envisioned, perhaps had I done so, I would not have gotten us into this mess.

    One day I am sobbing, running down our back country roads, saying farewell to the calves, the mountain peaks and the bucolic fields that bring me complete serenity.

    And on some days I am left empty, wanting to let go, to not feel anymore.

    I have dreams of finding our new home, not too dissimilar to your farm house. The light filters in on our grown boys eating fresh eggs at our oak table and I know that in the end, all will be fine and so I begin to edit and write and edit and write.

  23. Beverly Akerman

    thanks for this post–i am touched by the notion that we are constantly writing, rewriting, and editing our lives. and that lovely long line of tomatoes at the windowsill–in different stages of ripening. they look so hopeful, don’t they, like children wistfully gazing on the action facing them. makes me wonder what’s going on in front of that window. just life, i suppose.

    made a recent post of my own on editing, you are all kindly invited to check it out:


  24. kathryn magendie

    This is such an insightfully lovely post. And I love the glimpse into the farm, photos and otherwise. I’ve been wanting to clean out to – get rid of – pluck out – not only in my latest ms, but in my little log house here at Killian Knob.


  25. Fiona Leonard

    A lovely post and a lovely way of describing the process of getting back to the essential joys in your life. I’ve been travelling now for nearly three years and have a storage unit back in Australia filled with a household of stuff. When I think about the things I really, really miss I could probably pack them all into one or two boxes. I wish I’d taken the time to weed through everything and store only what I absolutely loved.

  26. Darrelyn Saloom

    Thanks Debra, Susan, Mari, PJ, Clare and Louis. I think you’re right Debra, I feel lighter and ready to try new things with my writing. Susan, A house on the beach would be perfect for you. PJ, good luck with your organizing, it’s neverending. Clare, I miss you, sweetie. Come visit soon. And Louis, I’m so sorry about the rickety chair.

  27. Louis Gary

    Darrelyn-What a great post!! I have wonderful memories from the farm and being back at Green Acres will be good for you and Danny! You have done a great job on the farm house as you have done on the post!! We look forward to the next get together and I’ll bring an extra sturdy chair!!

  28. PJ Kaiser

    Darrelyn – what a lovely post. I’m continuously editing my life so I’m hoping that will reflect positively on editing my writing 😉 Simplifying *is* good. I go through fits and starts on organizing and i’ve been on an organizing binge for most of the past year or year and a half. My husband wants to move to a bigger house and I just want to fit more comfortably in the house that we have. Your pictures are lovely and I envy you bring so close to nature. Although I love urban life, I’ve been craving the outdoors lately. Enjoy your new abode and I hope it brings you lots of good writing mojo 🙂

  29. Clare

    I too have so many amazing memories from the farm. Can’t wait to get back home and get together at the ol’ house. It’s looking great by the way.

  30. Mari Juniper

    What a lovely post, Darrelyn. It’s very interesting your parallel between your writing and your life. I’m so happy for you and your husband in your new-old house. It looks like you did the best thing moving to the farm. The pictures are so pretty. 🙂

  31. Susan Cushman

    Wonderful post, Darrelyn. And I loved your comment, too, Debra. Although I haven’t finished my book-in-progress yet, I am in a house-cleaning out phase. Somehow I feel the need to get rid of stuff, too… lots of stuff. Room by room, closet by closet. Party because we’re staging our house for the market this fall. We don’t have a 900-square-foot farm house to move into, but we’re looking for "just the right place" for this next phase of our life. And especially for a place where I can feel inspired for my writing. Your post lifted my spirits and helped me feel I’m moving in the right direction, Darrelyn.

  32. Debra Marrs

    Wow, Darrelyn! I always look forward to your posts, and this one tops the best! I’m fascinated at how the final step in your memoir collaboration lead to this new life choice too. When one door closes, another opens – in this case, literally.

    I often recommend writers declutter their lives in order to make more space for their true writing self to shine through. Often, that means tossing notes, papers, books and research. It might mean letting go of tasks, relationships, stuff, expectations, and guilt.

    No matter which comes first, the book or the writing life that leads to a book, the important thing is recognizing what truly matters and stepping into that new way of being. Congrats on doing just that, Darrelyn.

    I wish you all good days at the farm and hope I have the pleasure of sipping an icy beverage with you there, our feet up after a long day of writing, the sun sliding into the horizon, the sound of tree frogs singing to your husband’s guitar.