Every new year I like to come up with a little slogan for the year ahead, just a catchy way for me to remember my main objective. This year it was “Wipe it clean in 2014!” which could not have been any dorkier. But I’m down with my dorkiness, so it’s all good. Anyway, this year’s tagline basically just means I wanted to get rid of some stuff, a resolution that, I’m sure, countless others made as well.
Now, it’s important that you know that I am not a hoarder. I’ve had a perpetual Goodwill box in my garage for years and I fill it every couple of months then start all over. Having said that, I am not a minimalist and our household does not lack for “stuff”. Every time we have moved (which as life would have it has been about once every 2-3 years) the moving truck has been bigger and fuller than the one before. And for the most part, each house has been bigger than the one before, which is pretty much why each moving truck gets bigger. There seems to be this tendency among humans to find things to fill in empty spaces. But then of course, after the spaces are filled we begin to long for a visual break and so the cycle continues.
It also doesn’t help when you’re the kind of person who is just too curious, interested in too many things, enjoys learning too much and wants to try it all. Grow my own wheat? Why, yes! Take up beekeeping? I think I will! Read every issue of National Geographic ever published? I’m in! And then you marry someone who’s the same way and all your combined interests slowly but surely fill up your house. Not that I know anyone like that or anything…
So, a few years ago I started to feel like I was “drowning in stuff”. That was the phrase I repeated to my husband more than once. If you’d looked around our house, you wouldn’t have considered it particularly cluttered. It was large enough to comfortably hold our stuff without being too cramped. But it isn’t always a matter of quantity; remember you can drown in only an inch of water. At first I thought we needed a bigger house. At that time we were two adults and a baby living in a 4 bedroom + a loft, 3 bay garage, 2500 sq foot house. The idea that we “needed” anything bigger was absurd. Plus, I liked our house and didn’t want to move. So then I started thinking maybe we needed to get rid of some stuff. But what? I liked all my stuff. Good money had been paid for much of it. One day, I was going to have more time to actually use some of the things that hadn’t been touched since I’d unpacked them when we moved into the house. One day. And because I felt unsure of where to start, I didn’t start.
And then, we ended up moving again. We were renting the house and the owners decided to sell. We moved to a similar but slightly smaller house, where we still live. We made everything fit although a couple of larger pieces had to be relegated to the garage. I felt having a little less space was really a perfect catalyst to finally getting rid of stuff. So armed with my motto I started the new year and got rid of…pretty much nothing. I had conversations with myself like:
“Yes, those $200 leather pants that I rocked in my 20’s ARE two sizes too small now, but I might rock them again. One day. Or maybe Eva will want to wear them when she’s older! Old becomes vintage eventually. And they look pretty darn hot on. Wait. No she doesn’t even need to know about these pants, but I’m totally going to fit in them again one day.”
“I know we haven’t played a single game of tennis in the 7 years we’ve lived in Vegas, but I should probably still keep these tennis rackets.”
“I’ll never read these books again. But I can’t get rid of books! I love seeing all my books on the shelves and I love the image it presents. Besides, I want Eva to get the message that we value books and education. No, I definitely can’t get rid of those.”
Even though I wanted desperately to purge I just couldn’t decide where to start. And frankly, I lacked the courage to start. Because when we finally let go of “things”, especially things we’ve held onto for long periods of time, we also let go of good intentions and comfortable (though often unrealistic) perceptions of ourselves and our lives. Forcing yourself to be honest with yourself about yourself is one of the most terrifying things you can do. Yet, it’s also one of the most empowering things you can do. I think all too often we let our possessions speak for us. But what are they really saying? “Look! Look who I used to be, I was so small I could fit into THESE pants! Look! Look at the tennis rackets I don’t use, the guitar I don’t know how to play, the designer dress I’ve never worn because it’s impractical for my lifestyle! That’s who I’m going to be one day! Look! Look at all my books! Can’t you see how smart I am?!”
So one morning a few weeks ago I woke up, determined that the day had come. I have no idea why but I was finally ready. I walked downstairs and told Sean that I was getting rid of “a lot” of books. At first he tried to talk me out of it citing his own happy childhood memory of a large collection of books in the house and talk of providing Eva with the same. But I was not dissuaded. I spent the morning stalking back and forth between bookcases. I’d remove one or two from a shelf, move on to the next, go back again and remove another.
All said and done I probably unloaded about 50 or so books, which considering the number we have really isn’t that many. When I pointed out my purged shelves to Sean he didn’t notice anything different. But, books are my Achilles heel when it comes to purging, so it was a BIG deal for me. For too long I think I used the books to help curate an image of myself as a book nerd. But the thing is, I AM a book nerd. I always have been. My books don’t get unread just because I pass them along to someone else. And I don’t need to clutter my house just to convince the occasional visitor of my book nerd status.
Unloading the books was such a liberating experience that I rode the wave all the way to my kitchen. For me the kitchen is probably the most guilt heavy room in the house. My dirty little secret is that I don’t really enjoy cooking. I do it and I enjoy the fruits of my labor but I’m not someone who finds it relaxing or inspiring. I can comfortably admit that at this point in my life. But for a lot of years I tried to be that person. I don’t even know why. Maybe I felt as a housewife it was supposed to be a big part of my job and personality? Since cooking and eating are necessary parts of life maybe I felt that plunging myself ever deeper into food preparation would force me to enjoy it more? I don’t know. But I do know that every time I looked at the pasta maker that I had so badly wanted, the one I had used exactly twice, I felt tremendous guilt. Guilt for not making time to use it more and guilt for not even wanting to make the time. I felt guilty every time I wiped dust off the $300 juicer we never used. Guilt every time I opened the drawer and saw the cake decorating utensils that I never use because I don’t give a rat’s ass about cake decorating. So you know what I did? I removed all the unused stuff from my kitchen. And just like that, the guilt was gone! I sent the pasta maker to my sister who actually IS that person who enjoys cooking. I donated most of the other stuff to Goodwill, but does anyone wanna buy a juicer? 😉
Room by room I’ve been creating space for the life I live right now. Not the one I used to live. Not the one I might live someday. The one I live right now as a busy wife and mother who likes to read and craft, but doesn’t like to cook and has come to terms with the fact that gardening will not be part of her life so long as she lives in the desert (goodbye old friends)…
and that she will never wear leather pants again (sniff, sniff).
I’ve gone through every room, every drawer, cabinet and storage tub. I’ve taken four carloads to Goodwill, had three BIG trash days (I’m talking 5+ bags each time) and even managed to sell a couple of things. I’ve challenged some long held beliefs about things you “can’t get rid of”. Did you know that nothing bad will happen if you throw out old birthday cards you’ve received over the years? It’s true! I’ve been lugging this tub from house to house for years now.
It contained pretty much every greeting card I’ve received in my life. Ever. Do you know how often I’ve looked through all these cards? Once. When I was cleaning out the tub a couple of weeks ago. I’ve kept them because I had this notion that they had to be kept, like it seemed heartless to toss someone’s sentiments aside. But here’s what I found as I was reading through them all at once: most of the time the same sentiment is expressed over and over. My mom loves and is proud of me. My husband thinks I’m the best thing ever. I don’t need to keep 50 cards from each of them telling me this. How much more special to hold on to just a few, the ones that were inscribed with something more personal than Love, Sean or Love, Mom. Now my card collection looks so much sweeter and more treasured.
I’ve faced the reality that times change and some things simply outlive their purpose.
And that some things are simply better forgotten…
I’ve also learned that you can get rid of pretty much anything on the Free section of Craigslist. You know all those mostly full bottles of beauty and cleaning products that just aren’t for you but you hate to throw out? Someone will gladly take them off your hands!
I have tossed everything from expired food to clothes to old love letters. And every toss has felt like reaching the water’s surface and finally taking a breath. I can honestly say that I’ve never gotten rid of something that I later wished I hadn’t. That has never been more true than now.