A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it…. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get…more stuff! George Carlin
We’ve driven a few loads of stuff from our house and garage to the thrift store, the recycle centre, and the dump. The weekly collection pile at the curb has been a lot bigger the last few weeks,
We can now actually crawl into our crawl space. You know what’s in there? Shelves with more boxes.
All we’ve done is opened up other layers of stuff we packed away once upon a time. It’s good stuff, most of it. Well, some of it anyway.
I found that special connector I knew I was going to need when I upgraded the stereo in our old motorhome. A super deal – 50 cents at a yard sale. When I actually did the upgrade, I forgot I had it. Wouldn’t have been able to find it anyway.
But then there’s the stuff that really makes me wonder why I still have it. Like the big old tape recorder with the plastic reels. It doesn’t even work. I looked at the old moving company’s sticker on the lid – through how many moves had I lugged this thing? I counted up to ten when I ran out of fingers.
I know it’s bad to save unnecessary stuff for yourself and even worse to save it for other people. How did I get into this?
It’s so easy to see other people’s problems and know what they should do about them. Why is it so tough to deal with my own? I know. It’s all the history and baggage that I carry around with my own problems. All that stuff I have is wrapped in generations of emotional baggage.
In our family, we learned some of it from our parents and grandparents. That Depression-era, Second World War refugee thinking: things are bad and will only get worse; hang onto any useful or even remotely useful thing you have – you may need it. Don’t toss anything until it’s completely worn out and can’t be put to any other purpose. Or until someone else can use it.
Then we pass along this thinking to our kids.
So now I’m trying to change my thinking – to downsize and get rid of all this collected stuff. I can no longer pretend that the boxes in the basement are a heat and energy conserving thermal mass or that I can toss the stuff I’m tripping over into the closet and it will go away.
And how the world has changed. Things are cheap and easy to get and difficult to get rid of. Now everyone is rich, things are disposable. People spend money as a form of entertainment. No one wants old stuff. Charities cherry pick. The dump is selective and not cheap.
I acknowledge my wrong thinking and still it’s difficult to give up my stuff. Why is it clinging to me so tightly? I don’t know what to do about it, so I don’t do anything.
There are a lot of decluttering guides out there.
They can help you categorize clutter. For example there is:
Emotional clutter – the main kind with sentimental and emotional ties. Items that bring back memories – a story is attached to it. (But it’s the story, not the thing, that’s important.) Things you hang onto through guilt – it came from someone through great personal or financial sacrifice.
Bargain clutter – it was so cheap; how can I get rid of it? I found by the side of the road.
Just-in-case clutter – no personal or sentimental value here. Just lots of old papers, bank statements, and bills; mechanical and electrical parts.
The guides also give practical steps. You get three big boxes and label them…. You set the timer for 20 minutes and…. But these hints and procedures only work after you’ve disentangled all the mental ties. How can I do that?
I looked for other suggestions. One was meditation – sit in the midst of the clutter and meditate on why you are hanging onto it.
So I sat in the middle of the piles of boxes of paperwork I’d amassed over the years and tried to calm my buzzing mind. (Breathe slowly….) The boxes loomed over me. And I got a glimmer of insight: They were mostly memories of the lives I use to lead (in my case business, legal, technology-related) and documentation for lives I thought I might have. Someday. There were notes, papers, clipped articles, cartoons and books for the business growth and vision books I had planned to write and the consulting I was going to do someday. Brilliant, maybe, but nowhere in my plans now. Times have changed. Others have written about it. I’m off in other directions. I helped the recycle truck driver load the boxes.
Well that helped in one corner. The technique has merit. I’ll keep using it.
Then there’s the Fen Shui approach. Feng shui is an art and science that has to do with energy flow in a home as well as the energy attached to particular items. I don’t even want to think about the convoluted dysfunctional energy flows in this house.
But I thought the idea of using it for specific items was interesting. The idea is to pick up an item and ask what the item is saying to me.
I was rifling through a box of odds and ends and pulled out a picture of an old girlfriend. “What is this photograph saying to me?” I asked. I looked at it. “I dumped you over 35 years ago and you still have my picture? Ha-ha-ha!” Gone.
I still have a lot to learn about myself in this ongoing process. I am learning to say No . And I realize now that even when I’m ‘done’, decluttering will be a life-long activity.