Stuff about stuff

Earlier this year, I took advantage of a sojourn in Providence to go through the clothing I had in my storage space. I tried on everything and discarded two bags of clothing that didn’t fit or wasn’t in good condition.

It wasn’t until this summer that I realized I had overlooked some clothing that was in a hanging box. Trying on these items was one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had. These were gently-worn, good-quality skirts and dresses and a beautiful red coat, but when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the person I saw there. That’s because this was clothing I wore in a different life—a life that revolved around going into a corporate office every day. It made me realize that when I tried on all the other clothing, I considered only whether it fit and was in good condition; I didn’t think about whether I would wear it again or whether it fit the life I am living now.

That got me to thinking, as I seem to do often these days, about ‘stuff’ and our relationship with it. Maybe it’s because I’ve been living without most of my belongings for two years, maybe it’s because so many people I know are trying to streamline their living environments, maybe it’s because I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, maybe it’s a combination of factors, but I realized that there are some traps I’ve fallen into, and that I see others falling into, when it comes to stuff and what we keep and what we discard.

The ‘what if‘ trap: what if I need this some day, what if I can never replace it, what if I can never afford to replace it? Any one of those things could become a factor at some point, but I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m not using it now, I don’t need it taking up space in my physical and mental rooms. I have to believe that I will be able to replace the functionality of the item if I need to, even if I can’t find one exactly like it.

The ‘maybe someday‘ trap: maybe someday I’ll finish this project, maybe someday I’ll go back to this craft, maybe someday I’ll have space for this. Yes, and in the meantime, this is stuff that has to be stored and cared for and is possibly in the way of more important items and activities.

The ‘eBay‘ trap: I’m keeping this around because I might be able to sell it and make some money. Think so? When we went through my mom’s possessions a couple of years ago, there were some items that we thought might have monetary value, so I did some research. I reviewed the completed listings on eBay, where one can see what has sold and for how much, and I can tell you that a lot of things aren’t worth the time, effort, and fees it takes to list them on eBay or any other storefront site. If you want to sell something, I say get on a site, list the item, and if it doesn’t sell, donate it. If you think it’s unique and valuable, call an expert for an appraisal NOW.

On that note, when a friend of mine closed her apartment last year, she said she realized that her possessions didn’t owe her anything, so she made the decision to donate rather than try to sell them. She said she had gotten good use out of them and that was enough.

The ‘it’s still good’ trap. This is a big one for me, especially when it comes to clothing. But see above—it doesn’t matter if the item is still in good condition; if you aren’t using it or wearing it, let it go and let someone else have the use or wear of it.

The ‘it has an association with a deceased loved one’ trap. This is hard for many of us—letting go of something that a deceased loved one gave us or that we inherited when that person died. When my father died, my siblings and I took items that had especial meaning for us as individuals and put the rest in boxes to store and revisit at a later time. When my sister and I opened those boxes a couple of years later, we realized that a lot of the stuff we had packed didn’t have meaning for us—if it had had meaning, we probably would have made the choice to take it at the time we took the other items. It’s hard, but I put it to you that at some point, you can’t keep everything and if the items are a burden, it’s time to let them ago. It’s highly unlikely that your loved one will return to haunt you.

Do I have a hard time making decisions about ‘stuff?’  Yes.  Can I tell anyone what to keep and what to discard?  No. However, to quote another friend, at some point you realize that more stuff won’t make you more comfortable and that, in fact, it is making you less comfortable because it’s taking up room in your head, your heart, and your life. Let the stuff go that no longer serves a purpose in your life.

Kondo, Marie. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2014. Kindle file.

A lovely thought

This morning, I donated some clothing to a local organization that provides work-appropriate clothing to low-income people who are completing training or educational programs. As I was filling out the donation form, I chatted with the woman who took in the clothing, saying that I hoped the recipients would wear the clothing in good health and on their way to a new life. She said, ‘not only will they get the clothing, they’ll get the good luck and wishes that go with it.’ Isn’t that a lovely thought?!

Stuff

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!