Stuff, and More Stuff

I’ve been working on decluttering my house for a while now.  And by “a while,” I mean the last two years and some.  I discovered the minimalist lifestyle online, and I consider it something to strive for – though I’m admittedly a long way from being described as such.  I like that it results in less cleaning, less maintenance,  less waste,  and a mentally calm home.

So why, when Auntie is cleaning out Gramma’s house, do I feel this compelling urge to Take. All. The. Things!?  The pie pan and salt shakers, we will use.  Zero guilt at accepting those.  Ditto for family photos of Manly as a wee babe (everybody with me now, awwwww) and the saved program from our wedding. The embroidered table topper, I adored.  I have actually photographed the pattern before to replicate on my own, and I will display it.  The massive set of closet organizer pieces … I rationalized those by getting rid of mismatched hangers from my own closet (and some more clothes too, to make room).  The little painting, eh.  I’ll hang it up, but I probably should have walked away. 

That’s what I have done now, walked away.  I stopped myself from taking the sets of hardback books (“maybe someday the kids will want them”) and passed a framed watercolor to my father in law (he loved the artist).  I will let Manly decide if we need more kitchen things – he is not swayed by the same magpie desires that would have me bring home every cookbook and baking dish there.

At dinner the other night,  Auntie was a little depressed.   “My mother loved this house.  She loved every single thing in it.  And now nobody wants any of it.”  She stopped for a moment and caught herself.  “But you know, I don’t either.  I have my own house.” 

I too look around my own house and wonder if I’m falling into the same trap.  What will my kids want someday when I’m in the ground?  They won’t care about my commemorative event glasses, or all the dvds we don’t even watch, my college textbooks or the valence that never got hung in the dining room.  Honestly, do I even care about those things now?  If it’s not beautiful and not useful, why do I give it space in my life?  Standing back, it’s easy to see what I should keep and what I should get rid of.  But in the moment, with the object in my hands, I have trouble putting it in the donate pile.  I suddenly think – What if I lose another 30 pounds and can fit into those button-fly jeans from college again? What if we suddenly discover a use for a dozen ancient remote controls? How could I bear to throw away my graduation tassels or my Girl Scout badge book or the paper centerpiece from my baby shower (that is, the one thrown when my mother was pregnant with me)?  I laugh right now while I’m writing this, but I know from experience that I’ll be paralyzed into inaction when I try to clear out those things.

It’s irrational.   And I know that, and yet the stuff still wins.  I shudder at the thought of cleaning out my own parents’ house,  and yet I can’t clear out my own.  If all the stuff was magically gone, I wouldn’t miss it, and yet I still get caught up in the emotional attachment to all of it. 

How do I get past my lizard brain that wants to clutch and clasp at every single possession (“My precious!”)?  How do you do it?

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3 thoughts on “Stuff, and More Stuff

  1. How in the world did you read my mind? I’m in the same boat when it comes to hanging on to things. I think it’s a pack rat gene that runs in the family. I had to down size with my last move getting rid of box after box of books. I regret that now, I should have been more selective in what I gave to Goodwill.

  2. I had one small victory this summer. Rather than keep boxes of old drama textbooks and scripts I committed to myself to just go see more live theatre for crying out loud. The boxes then went to the library as a donation. That felt good.

    But old birthday cards, old year books, old prom dresses… I can wrap my head around the need to get rid, but when I stand down there about to do it I get so emotionally exhausted.

    Here’s an idea: maybe the trick is to write down what needs to go, and then delegate someone else to actually chuck it out. Pretend there was a flood and it’s just gone.

  3. I follow the if you haven’t used it or touched in a year (or two) do you really need it. If it’s an heirloom, awesome, preserve it in some way that you can display it. If it’s a big bulky item, take pictures and create an album to remember the house, the way it was, the item you’d love to keep but have no room for it.

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