Holding On

Our family had friends who collected. Not one thing in particular, but a little of lots of things in particular. Some of it was purchased with the thought of “investment” for retirement. Some of it (all the magazines and other etceteras) accumulated and was simply kept. Eventually, there was little living space in the house, as everything was packed floor to ceiling. Small trails let from sitting area to sleeping area. When they passed away, someone had a fearsome task to clear things out.

I’ve found that many people I talk to about our friends knows someone whose collecting has gotten just this out of hand, whether it’s family, friend, friend of a friend or neighbor. The topic makes some of us a bit queasy as we begin to wonder if perhaps our accumulation of “stuff” could get—or is getting–out of hand. The problem becomes worse when a parent or grandparent dies and we become the caretakers of things that we may not want or need, but for which we feel a sentimental or guilty obligation. A lot of this guilt is stored away in off-site storage units and is never seen again. We pay the rental fees, month after month, not wanting to deal with the problem. In fact, I recently read that off-site storage is a $20 billion a year business. There are a lot of us with “stuff.”

I experienced stuff excess when my mother died. Thank heavens she wasn’t a big collector of anything. (When someone asked her once what she collected, she said, “Penguins.” When the person wanted to know how many she had, she said, “One.” She had about 10 when she died—all of them gifts from family and friends.)  So we didn’t have the massive job that many adult children have: going through attics, basements, closets and storage units. But still, it was months of sorting, selling, donating and tossing.

Although I’m not a big collector either, since her death, I’ve felt awash in “stuff.” Multiples of this. Spares of that. Clothes that I can’t wear now but hope to wear again some day. And I keep thinking–if something happens to me, what kind of mess am I leaving for someone else to sort out?

So I’ve begun thinning out closets, shelves, garage, files. And I’ve been pretty aggressive about it. Every time I open a cupboard or drawer, I try to see the things inside with fresh eyes. Can I let go of something that I couldn’t release six months ago? If the answer is yes, it goes into the donation box immediately while the mood’s on me. I’ve found that, so far, I haven’t regretted anything that’s no longer in the closet.

And when I think about buying something, the question becomes: Do I really need it? Can I borrow it or rent it? Can I fix the one I have? If I do decide to buy it, what am I going to get rid of? When I do buy something, I’m trying to get rid of two of something.

It’s helping. I still have a long way to go, but I’m beginning to feel like I can breathe. When I open a cupboard, I can put something away without trying to wedge it in with a shoehorn. (Which is fortunate, since the shoehorn has already gone.) I will soon be able to donate some of the plastic storage containers in which that miscellaneous “stuff” has been tucked away.

As an added bonus, almost everything that has moved out of my closet has gone to someone who a) wants it, and b) can use it.  And I feel better because, if something sudden should happen to me, the job I leave to someone else will be that much easier.

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