The last several weeks have been all about ‘stuff.’ First, as I mentioned in a previous post, I was in Texas, working with my two sisters to close out my mom’s storage spaces. Now I am weeding through my own possessions as I prepare to close my apartment and put everything in storage.
For 25 years, I lived in a 400 square foot apartment, which discouraged accumulation of things and encouraged regular weeding out of same. At one point, I did get a small storage space, but tried to use it only for seasonal items, like my window air conditioner. Even so, I managed to keep a lot of things in my apartment closets, either because they had sentimental value or because I thought I might use/want/need them some day. I didn’t like to put anything valuable in the storage space, but eventually, things accumulated there too.
I can point to the liberating moments in discarding. One was when I read what papers should be kept and what could be discarded. Guess what? You really don’t need to keep ATM transaction slips for even a year! That started me on a clean-out that resulted in a suitcase full of paper to shred. Another moment was when I read a rule of thumb that if the item you weren’t using could be replaced for $25 or less, discard it. That led me to cleaning out my kitchen of speciality gadgets and pans that I hardly ever used. I figured if I became a person who made her own tortillas, I could buy another tortilla press.
But the urge to keep stuff goes beyond these examples. When we went through my mom’s stuff, it was easy to donate decorative items that were not part of our childhood memories, various lamps that we never liked anyway, and furniture that my mom had bought after she sold our house. It was a lot harder to make decisions about the wooden cradle and the china and the multiple boxes of photos, even if we don’t know who some of the people in those photos are. In the end, my sisters incorporated some of the items into their homes and stored others for their children or, in the case of the photos, for us to go through when we had time together.
As I go through my own stuff, things that once had sentimental value don’t have as much as they used to. When my dad first died, we kept everything we could, since a lot of his possessions got taken or sold out from under us. Now that some time has passed, I don’t know if I need to keep things that don’t really remind me of him. The Texas Rangers baseball jacket we gave him for Christmas one year is another story altogether. After the backup drive that has all my photos, it’s the thing I would grab in a disaster.
I also look at a gravy boat that was given to my grandparents on one of their wedding anniversaries. My mom sent it to me several years ago with a note that said I should not get rid of it and that it might have value some day. The reality is that it doesn’t have sentimental value for me, not much monetary value, and I can’t think of a way to repurpose it in my living space. It’s small, but still it takes up room that I’d rather have for something else. What I am keeping is my grandmother’s spice chest with the ceramic drawers that have the names of spices written on them in German. That I remember hanging on the wall of the kitchen in my grandparents’ home; I loved it then and I love it now.
I’ve come to realize that one of the challenges of discarding things is that in some cases, I’m discarding a version of myself. Most of us (at least the women) have probably at one point or another kept an item of clothing (or several!) to wear when we lost weight or got in shape or had a lifestyle that fit that item of clothing. I try not to do that, but I do have a denim mini-dress that I loved for years. It almost fits, but really, am I ever going to wear it again? It’s just not me anymore. Then there’s the Ralph Lauren blazer; it’s a beautiful brown plaid and in like-new condition, but I haven’t worn it in three years, so the odds are that I’m not going to wear it again. But by discarding it, I’m discarding a version of myself—the one with red hair that wore those kinds of clothes to an office job. Over the last couple of years, I’ve discarded most of the set of tableware that I had used since I was in my 20s. It wasn’t fancy or unusual, but it was hard to get rid of it because it was one of my first ‘grown-up’ purchases.
So, wish me luck as I go through this process!