The Real Reason Purging is Hard


I want to tell you something, but it’s a little embarrassing (deep breath)…

I’ve had these glass dishes since 2001, since before Sean and I were married.  I’ve moved them over 2000 miles across the country and they’ve lived with me in 7 different homes.  And yet…I’ve never actually used them.

They were bought on a whim, one of those insanely cheap Walmart clearance items.  For the first several years I kept them thinking they would be ideal for entertaining large groups.  The last few years I’ve kept them because I thought they’d be perfect for crafting.  I really liked the idea of painting them.  It seems like a nice way to turn something ordinary into something pretty AND functional.

In reality, however, aside from the few plates I did actually turn into seasonal decorative items for my home,  these dishes have remained stacked in my craft room, serving only as dust collectors.  Most of our entertaining has been for groups small enough that I could use my regular dinnerware.  And the few times we have had large crowds, I’ve used paper plates.  I’ve gone so far as to buy glass paint…but when I actually have a little time to work on them, I never do.

Which brings me to the point of this post:  what’s the real reason purging is so hard sometimes?  I think most of us can see that it’s not always the stuff itself.  My dishes did not cost me a lot of money, they were not passed on to me by someone I love, they aren’t even rare (you can find glass dishes in pretty much any craft store).  Why have I invested so much valuable space and time (packing and unpacking) into these dishes I don’t even use??  I think the answer is this:  as long as those dishes sit there, I can imagine living a life in which we entertain large groups often enough that they enjoy frequent use.  Or I can imagine myself as someone who spends every ounce of free time industriously crafting unique handmade items.  It’s not the dishes I have a hard time saying goodbye to.  It’s the intentions, the possibilities of a life I could have.

I know I’m not alone in this.  I’ve known other people who have the same problem with craft supplies.  I’ve known people who have saved magazines a decade old because they imagine a life in which they have the time to read them all one day.  I’ve known people who save clothes that don’t fit their lifestyle or their body because they imagine a life in which those clothes are appropriate (I’ve done this a little myself).  I’ve known people who have collected baby gear because they wanted so badly to be a parent or grandparent.

The specific items differ for each of us but in pretty much every case it’s not really the “thing” we’re afraid to lose.  This is the only life we get and it can be down right painful to accept that maybe we aren’t going to have or be the things we’d always imagined.  Maybe we aren’t going to have the leisure time/money/status we hoped for.  Maybe we aren’t going to be parents/grandparents.  Maybe we don’t really enjoy a thing, even if we’re good at it or other people think it suits us in some way.  I believe that’s the real reason purging is so challenging for some people.  And it’s the reason you can’t rush someone into purging.  Believe me, I do understand how frustrating it is to watch someone hold on to things that are so obviously junk, but I also know that no one else can ever really know what that “junk” represents to another.  Remember, the thing is rarely the thing

So back to the dishes.  I’ve finally decided to part with them.  They are packed up and ready for Goodwill.  I did deliberate for several days on it.  But what’s motivating me right now is that Sean and I are considering moving into a smaller home when our lease is up in 6 months.  So, I’m trying to get even more realistic with myself about the life I DO live and the one I want to live.  There’s a reason we’ve never entertained large groups very often:  we’re introverts and prefer more intimate gatherings.  The biggest reason I haven’t painted a single dish in all the years I’ve owned them is that I don’t need any more dishes for myself and don’t know anyone else who could use them either and I’m just not interested in making them to sell.

I can finally be honest with myself about myself.  I’m content to entertain just my little family…and have fewer dishes to wash!   I’d rather spend my free time reading or sewing instead of painting glass.  Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should.  Don’t let your head and your home be cluttered by coulds and shoulds.  Clear some space for what IS.  As the saying goes, “Own your stuff, don’t let it own you.”

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