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.