I have a confession to make: Like many women of a certain age, I suffer from possession obsession. I have too much “stuff” and don’t know what to do about it. You know what I mean – I have an overabundance of material objects that I don’t want or need, but somehow cannot bear to shed.
I know, the term “stuff” is very general. For me it covers—at bare minimum—three categories:
The Sentimental Stuff
… like your grandmother’s musty antique furniture, the needlepoint pictures your mother so lovingly stitched, the tens of dusty, fading photo albums, the children’s adorable artwork from pre-K on scattered about the house, and your husband’s junk (I mean high school sports trophies).
The Good Stuff
… you know, things you’re not using it right now, but you might … For example: The gorgeous size 4 black knit dress you haven’t worn since you had the kids 30 years ago. Who knows? You might lose weight and fit into it again. And what about the perfectly good skis? You never know. You might want to hit the slopes again … someday.
This category also includes the three extra comforters you have “just in case,” the two extra irons, and the old—but still working—red toaster that clashes with your new kitchen color scheme.
The Other Stuff
… as in “What the Hell is in all those boxes in the garage, basement and attic?” and “Why is this horrible picture Aunt Sally gave us still on the wall? She’s long gone.”
The Joy(?) of Good-bye
Like you, I’ve read dozens of books and articles about de-cluttering, organizing, and “letting go.”
One book said to kiss good-bye objects that don’t bring you “joy.” Another suggested taking photos of sentimental objects you no longer want, but wish to memorialize.
One object that definitely doesn’t bring me joy is Grandma’s ornate couch with walnut wood carved cherubs. It isn’t comfortable today and I bet it wasn’t comfortable in 1929 when Grandma brought it back from visiting family in Europe. If I heed what I read, I should just snap a photo and adios cherubs and couch.
Well, as a first step to finding my decluttering “joy,” I’ve taken that photo, as well as photos of other unjoyful, but sentimental “stuff.” Yet, I haven’t taken the second step–the actual getting rid of things. But I’m confident. “Any day now” I will.
I’m sure you empathize. Now that we’re older, it seems so many of our possessions tell stories about our lives, the good and the bad times, the birthdays, the anniversaries, the children’s graduations—all of it.
For me, getting rid of even one of my late mother’s 20-plus paperweights means making high-stakes decisions, like choosing between the one I gave her for her 50th birthday or the one my son bought to cheer her up in the hospital after a horrible surgery.
Sort, Separate, Donate … REPEAT
Yet, I am determined to make headway with this decluttering mission or at least forge a path to the back of my closet.
A few months back, I took a monumental step forward. I gave an item of tremendous sentimental value, my mother’s 140-piece fine china set, to a dear friend. You can read about that epic, but ultimately happy, moment in my story, “Inheritance Guilt.”
And that’s not all. I scanned the photos. I digitized the home movies. I’ve tossed the DVDs, since it seems everything can be viewed online. I gave away (most of) my record albums on the last move across the country.
A confession: I’ve kept my CDs. I know I should get rid of them since we’ve already downloaded our music to our iPhones. But still, this is a tough one for me. I love looking through my CDs, much like I loved flipping through my albums, admiring the artwork, reading the lyrics, swooning over Paul McCartney. It’s hard to be old school in a digital world.
Moving on. I’ve kicked to the curb all my high-heeled shoes. That was easy. Footwear reality set in long ago. I know my achy arches will never again walk, no less dance, in spikey pointed shoes.
And that’s not all. With heartless abandon, I tossed four coffee mugs, I don’t know how many vases that came decades ago with roses from Handsome Hubby (HH), and a number of mismatched storage containers and lids.
Progress, But …
The results are impressive: my closet is streamlined; the drawers and cabinets no longer bulge; the garage is no longer identified on local maps as an avalanche hazard zone.
And yet … There still is an awful lot of stuff.
You see, this problem isn’t just hanging on to unwanted, obsolete, and sentimental items. It’s the good “stuff,” the “who knows, I might need it again” items that’s the real challenge.
The Coat Closet Crisis
Take my coats. Do I really get rid of one (or more) of my four winter coats just because I moved to balmy Berkeley? If so, which coat gets the heave-ho?
The double-breasted black Brooks Brothers cashmere coat? Of course not. It is elegant and will never go out of style.
The puffy orange coat? Every single time I wear it, somebody tells me how good the color looks on me. Who knew I would look good in orange? But of course, orange is the new black!
The bulky, dark purple, oh so warm and waterproof three-quarters length hooded jacket? I don’t really like it that much, but it is waterproof. What if we go to Lake Tahoe or Siberia?
What about my mother’s mink coat? I was ready to part with this furry behemoth years ago. Then my NYC theater-going best friend pointed out that one day I will be old and cold–and grateful–I kept the coat for our Broadway show outings in the dead of winter. Reprieve granted.
And It’s Not Just Me
Over in HH’s closet, things are equally alarming. Between the cowboy boots he can no longer wear, the multiple pairs of running shoes in various stages of beat-up and odiferous, and the ties in various widths and patterns, his closet bulges and buckles without room to spare.
And then there’s all the “stuff” we’re storing for our adult children—the old and obsolete gaming systems which for some reason they insist on keeping, the stuffed animals, and who knows what else.
So, between us all, there’s an overabundance of plenty. Perhaps I should be content. I did clear out a lot of clutter and donate some very nice items to charity. Perhaps I should be grateful that we have so many lovely possessions and wonderful memories.
But instead I worry. I worry about capturing the attention of city fire safety inspectors. I worry about being featured in an episode/intervention on that TV show about hoarders.
What to do?
Tune in next week on “Muddling through Middle Age” as we explore options for my family’s possession obsession – “Stuff for My Stuff.”