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Posts Tagged ‘decluttering’

It’s been a slow crawl, this move to Atlanta.

I’ve realized that, despite all of my downsizing and decluttering, I’m still not very portable. And I’ve decided that portability is one of my main goals right now. If I decide to move to Manhattan in a few years, or Key West, or anywhere, really, I want to be able to stuff everything that has to go in the back of a box truck.

It’s doable, really, because I’ve discovered how many things that I really don’t want or need. I left a lot of things back in Huntsville — “temporarily,” if you will — and I haven’t missed most of it. (OK, I totally missed my cookie scoop, but I grabbed it on my last trip back.)

It’s been like losing a lot of weight that I didn’t even know I was carrying around. It’s freeing, being surrounded by only the things you actually use, the things you actually enjoy looking at.

It makes for way less noise in my head. I like it.

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Yesterday, we hustled this beast of a piano into a rental truck for a short trip across town to one half of The Owl Sisters, two Huntsville ladies who refinish old furniture. After they remove its incredibly heavy harp, one Owl Sister will move the piano (which will really be a former piano at that point) into her home, where she’ll probably turn it into a bar. Or, possibly, something even cooler.

I’ve learned that old pianos are essentially worthless unless they’ve been completely reconditioned, a process that can cost just a thousand dollars or two less than the newly reconditioned piano’s value. I’m not taking that wager.

In the past, I’ve called this the accidental piano. When I was helping my dad clean out his mother’s house, it seemed like a good idea to take it home, not because I had fond memories of it (or even played piano), but because I had always thought it was a groovy piece of furniture. I had no idea that nearly 10 years in Mobile’s humidity would render its delicate wheels virtually useless.

For me, it has held family photos and knickknacks, along with whatever objects happened to be attracted to a flat surface at any given moment. I will miss its unique addition to the general decor, but I won’t miss moving it to another house or worrying about it scratching/denting the new floor when we get around to ditching the carpet.

Au revoir, beastly piano. Enjoy your third life.

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I thought this was interesting in light of my recent post on aspirational clutter. While blogger jlsathre had assumed that she would end up bringing home most of the contents of her deceased parents’ house when she and her sister cleaned it out, she left with only a very few items.

In The Things I Didn’t Keep of Mom and Dad’s, she writes:

Leaving the house that first day, I knew that it wasn’t the things that remained inside that I wanted to keep. I did take a few things– the candy dish, a ledger with page after page of Dad’s handwriting, and an address book with pages of Mom’s.  But mainly what I kept  were things I didn’t have to carry.  I had found that I didn’t need very much.  I already had the stories.

Stories without things? Absolutely the best souvenirs you can ask for.

Things without stories? They’ll clog your closets and your mind.

Not every item that we inherit has a story, and I think it’s an unfair burden to think that we have to keep a thing only because it belonged to someone in particular.

Stories vs. things? I’m picking stories every time.

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Have you ever found a book passage that seemed custom-written for you?

While perusing Slave to Happiness: Why Having an Interesting Life is the New American Dream by Penelope Trunk, I stumbled over this paragraph in the chapter titled “Testing the Meaning of Money and the Value of Stuff”:

So much of what we human beings hold on to is what we wish we were using — aspirational clutter. Objects that commemorate a life we aspire to but do not have.

I’ve had a version of this thought running around in my head for the past two weeks. I’ve expressed my exasperation to the husband that sometimes it feels like our house is simply a museum for stuff, a storage bin for the trappings of suburban life.

There’s a reason they’re called trappings: Get yourself a houseful of stuff and see how much it stresses you out to even CONSIDER packing it all up to move.

We all seem to find ourselves using the “what if” mentality when it comes to belongings. What if I ever have 12 people over for a sit-down dinner? (Note: If I invite 12 people over for a sit-down dinner, call your local psychiatrist because, seriously, 12 people?) What if I decide to take up embroidery again, despite the fact that the activity bored me to no end the first time? What if I decide to make homemade Twinkies with that specialty pan, despite the fact that the only homemade Twinkies I ever made were nearly as atrocious as the real thing?

What if I never saw this stuff again?

People attach artificial value to a lot of things they never use and really wouldn’t miss if they were gone.

We’ve essentially made ourselves immobile. Scale up in home size, scale up in things to fill it. And I don’t mean Hoarders amounts of stuff, I mean bookshelves filled from end to end, cabinets filled with things that rarely see use and plastic boxes — neatly stacked in closets, mind you — filled with decorations and accessories that we’ve either tired of (for now, we tell ourselves) or just don’t work in our current situation (for example, we haven’t had a Christmas tree in 15 years because of the cats, but we do have a box filled with lights and a few ornaments because, you know, one day …).

The funny thing? That rare moment when you DO find that you need the stitch-puller that you remember packing away with the rest of the sewing supplies even though you never sew? You WILL NOT be able to find it because of all the other stuff you’ve got neatly stored, just in case you ever need it.

It’s lunacy, really, the way we stockpile our homes and clutter our lives and minds with physical objects that have little use or meaning. We trap ourselves in suburbia with 2,000 square feet of china cabinets, storage ottomans and under-the-bed sweater boxes, never considering the opportunities we might freely pursue if we didn’t have to worry about the stuff spread all over the house, the tiny apartment in the big city we might move to if we only didn’t have hundreds of books and an inexplicable assortment of old, unused electronics.

Maybe it’s time to refocus our aspirations so that our “aspirational clutter” isn’t clutter at all, but only the things we use, love and enjoy.

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Some lessons bear repeating.

During a visit with my mom in August, I “rescued” an old jewelry box from her Goodwill bag. I really have no idea how long she’s owned it, but she’s had it for at least as long as she’s had me.

I had plans to do a little renovation (the top arch is hinged and is constantly falling over, which seems to be a constant reminder that it really doesn’t belong there) and maybe repaint the boring brown wood a more exciting color.

I embarked on my last semester of graduate school a week after I returned to Huntsville, and haven’t had time to give the jewelry box much thought.

It hit me last week: I don’t love this item. I love the memories associated with it. When I was growing up, it was a permanent accessory on Mom’s dresser, and each drawer held a different treasure. A tiny gold bracelet that belonged to me when I was a baby. A large, exotic cameo pin. Mom’s class ring.

It was a mysterious treasure chest filled with things I didn’t get to see every day.

Without those items, indeed, without those MOMENTS, it’s just a big wooden box. I don’t even have a good place to put it, much less things to put in it.

Higher purpose time: One of my favorite local animal rescue groups, A New Leash on Life, recently donated $10,000 to Huntsville’s low-income spay/neuter program. The organization’s thrift store, called Market Place, made this donation possible. People donating their gently used goods make the Market Place possible.

As for Mom, she would much rather see her jewelry box sold to help animals than for it to linger on my closet shelf.

And the lesson repeated? Don’t think you have to hold on to things to hold on to memories.

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I had a total “ah-ha” moment this weekend. (OK, “ah-ha” wasn’t the phrase running through my head when the moment occurred, but let’s keep this family-friendly.)

My mom was showing me a vase that she had gotten from my grandmother’s house. It had belonged to my grandmother’s sister (or sister-in-law, maybe) and had been in my grandmother’s possession for decades after the original owner’s death. I had never seen this vase before, and it struck me as meh, valuable or not. I told my mom I wasn’t interested in it, and she was good with that — she’s learned the freedom of owning less stuff over the years, and respects my right to reject heirlooms.

The thought that ran through my head during the interchange, however, was, “Your treasure is not my treasure.” The thought wasn’t really aimed at my mom, since she’s not one to try to convince me to take things that I don’t want or need. I think it was aimed at the whole mindset people have that there are certain items that MUST be passed from generation to generation for eternity.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pass things down or treasure things from long ago. But we can’t keep everything.

It’s not a personal affront if I don’t want your collection of glass cake plates; it’s just that my favorite cake plate happens to be a weathered old aluminum model with more character than elegance. (Autobiographical cake plate FTW.)

Back to the vase in question: I had never seen it before. Meaning that my grandmother kept it, but didn’t treasure it enough to display it. Therefore, I have no memories associated with this vase. It’s simply an object that I don’t find that attractive. I feel no urge to take it home simply because it belonged to someone I’m related to.

I have plenty of things from my grandparents’ home that mean A LOT to me. A collapsible aluminum cup that my grandfather brought back from World War II. A pair of funky cat bookends from the middle bedroom. An old, golden glass piggy bank that my brother and I spent dozens of hours playing with, poking coins in and then shaking them out.

These things are my treasures.

There are people who would have their children fill their closets and attics with heirlooms, simply to keep those items “in the family.” Don’t do that. Let your children choose their treasures. To facilitate that, choose YOUR treasures. The things you value, not the things you stuff into the attic and the basement, will be the things they actually want later.

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The “Do One Thing” series chronicles my yearlong effort to tackle one project every day to organize my life and home.

Day 45: Rescued a florist’s vase from the garage. Normally, this sort of thing would end up in the thrift store box, but I like its minimalism. I cleaned it up and filled it with colored glass pebbles that I bought for a tiling project. (We were going to intersperse the pebbles in a pattern among the tiles, but it turns out that both my husband and I HATE tiling and there was no way we were going to work any more complications into the project than we had to.)

Anyway, I’m sort of not digging the whole colored pebbles in a vase thing, so it may end up at the thrift store anyway, but at least the garage is a little neater.

Previously:

Day 44: Dropped two magazines from our subscription list. Both are guilty of misguided attempts to blend their print and online operations, attempting to increase subscription prices while publishing all stories on the Internet for free. This is not a survivable online strategy. Besides, my husband cashed in a bunch of airline miles a couple of weeks ago for still more magazine subscriptions, so we’re still in the dead tree business.

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Meet Lion’s Head Garbage Can.

It occurred to me this morning for the first time ever — and I do mean EVER — how ludicrous it must seem for a grown woman to keep — and use — a garishly colored plastic garbage can in the shape of a cartoonish lion’s head. But I honestly cannot picture my office without it.

I’ve had him (and, I assure you, he’s a he and not an it) for as long as I can remember. I’m pretty sure my mom got him for me in the 1970s using trading stamps from the grocery store.

And just let me add here that everyone should have a mom who answers random text messages like “Did you get my lion’s head garbage can with green stamps?” with the same lack of surprise or suspicion that mine does.

Lion’s Head Garbage Can has been to college and made it through several moves. He has suffered the indignity of being stored in a closet for months on end. Tragically, his name is, indeed, Lion’s Head Garbage Can, which I can’t explain given my penchant for naming anything and everything.

I suspect he caught my eye, or my mom’s eye, because of my favorite childhood book: Crosspatch. I can’t quite remember what Crosspatch was about, although I’m pretty sure the plot revolved around a grouchy little lion cub. I apparently had grouchy little lion cub tendencies as a baby — my father claimed that my early grouchiness was the reason that he nicknamed me Bear.

But Lion’s Head Garbage Can can’t be renamed Crosspatch, because I actually HAVE a small stuffed lion named Crosspatch, which my mom recently rescued from my grandmother’s house for me.

So, here sits Lion’s Head Garbage Can, essentially nameless, but useful and loved, a somewhat ridiculous item that I cannot imagine doing without.

This is the best thing about paring down your possessions to only the essential and the treasured: You figure out the things that you simply adore, and you give yourself the physical and mental space to enjoy them.

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The “Do One Thing” series chronicles my yearlong effort to tackle one project every day to organize my life and home.

Day 29: Listed a couple of books and CDs for sale at Amazon. I’m always tempted to keep every book that comes into my hands, but I don’t have room, and I don’t miss them when they’re gone.

Day 30: I have been granted permission to scour the garage and make executive decisions. Best. Fling. Ever.

Day 31: Who’s the genius that came up with side-by-side refrigerators? The freezer section isn’t necessarily small, but it acts small, with two deep drawers that items just get lost in, and a couple of flimsy wire shelves, one with too much vertical space, the other with too little. The design of the refrigerator section is slightly better, but it’s not proportioned quite right either. And, because it’s shoved into a just-right-sized hole in the cabinetry, I can’t open the fridge door enough to remove the drawers. So they’re only as clean as I can get them while they’re still inside. No soaking old dirt and grime off; it’s there for life.

I’ve only chosen my own refrigerator once during my entire life, and we had to leave it behind when we moved four years ago. Therefore, I’m always stuck with somebody else’s bad decision and missing accessories.

Sigh. Today, I repacked some small bags of frozen cantaloupe, strawberries and greens into bigger bags in an effort to make one of the freezer drawers less of an abyss. The other one may hold a human head for all I know.

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The “Do One Thing” series chronicles my yearlong effort to tackle one project every day to organize my life and home.

Day 28: Clean angry. Choose a room. Get rid of anything that you don’t wear, don’t use or don’t love. Get rid of anything that doesn’t make you less angry. Get rid of anything that makes you angrier. If you start to feel less angry, go have another strong cup of coffee and remember why you were angry to begin with. Choose another room. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Previously this week:

Day 25: Chunked a couple of small, miscellaneous kitchen gadgets into the thrift-story bag. I can’t tell you what they were for. Seriously. Better to toss than to research, since I’ve lived without them for this long.

Day 26: Faced my true feelings for 3/4-length sleeves. I despise them, yet always seem to have a few in my closet. I was always a little tall and long-limbed as a child, and I sometimes had problems finding shirts with sleeves that were long enough. So, 3/4-length sleeves always make me feel like I should be tugging them toward my wrists. They’re gone now.

Day 27: I organized nothing, but I did go to a King Arthur Flour baking demonstration and might stand a chance of making a proper pie now. And pie makes any home nicer.

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