Monday, February 14, 2011

Decluttering is like panning for gold

That little red book is still working on me: I sorted through a rubbermaid bin containing 30 years' of cards and letters this weekend. And discarded into the recycling bin about ninety percent of it. What's left fits into a manila envelope.

The book is working some magic on me for two reasons:
1. In terms of typical motivations for keeping stuff, I discovered I have much in common with problem hoarders; this scared the hell out of me;
2. The authors presented a truly workable mindset: getting rid of birthday and graduation cards from Dziadek or Granny or Auntie Helen doesn't mean I'm getting rid of them or my memories of their love, or what they stood for in my life.
3. Plus the book presented cases of some lovely, intelligent people who successfully got rid of all kinds of emotionally laden stuff and were happier for it. This reassured me that they were not riddled with regret at having parted with their treasures, as I've feared I would be.

How I got rid of so much emotionally loaded stuff this weekend
Don't bother reading if this isn't an issue for you. And don't mock or make fun. It's serious. You don't know what it's like to be me. (Hmm, she's a bit defensive, no?)

Because I tend to attach a lot of meaning to things (including cards, books, letters, articles, clothing, jewelry, knickknacks, magazines, teacups, and antiquey items, especially if they're made of wood), I'll admit it was a tough, emotional slog.

I did it through a combination of sorting and dumping. I allowed myself to keep just my absolute very favourite cards and letters. Going along, I sorted each "keep" into alphabetical order - so as to keep track of, say, how many of Granny's cards I'm keeping - but dumped the obvious "don't keeps" right away (which meant stuffing a bunch into a recycling bag and a to-be-shredded bag so they weren't staring at me reproachfully).

It soon became clear that I didn't have to keep all 15 birthday cards from my grandmother - so I've kept my favourite one, the one I actually remember receiving, that she signed with, "Good luck! Good Health! Much happiness! Much love!"

Pretty cold eh? No, no, I'm still me. Plus nobody's saying get rid of the entire contents of your home - you need to be engaged and use your brains and judgement. Being willy nilly about it is NOT being in control of your stuff. Making conscious intelligent decisions IS.

Back to the cards from Granny. In addition to that one card I've chosen to keep, I have some special items of hers that I received after she passed away which I actively treasure, like a purple rhinestone necklace, a pair of green and silver embroidered silk shoes and a pair of soft white kid gloves - all of which fit me perfectly and have value to me outside the sentimental. The individual cards I had from her in storage for 30 years I'd mostly forgotten about - except for that one with the message that made me smile.

For those of you who are wanting to do this, to get rid of all this "stuff", try to just pick your favourite things. Then sort those favourites to keep your absolute favourites. Gently, kindly, let the rest go

And to get you excited about it, I have to stress to you how fun it is. Yep, it's tough, but it's like panning for gold. You are shaking out the detritus that's weighing down your life and you're keeping only the best. You're in control.


  1. I've been trying (very slowly) to do that but my hectic schedule (or my 3 kids' hectic schedules) keep interrupting me and it's hard to pick up where you left off as there's just stuff everywhere!

    Good for you! I am an emotional hoarder too. I like that point about it not being about letting go of those loved ones or their importance. I need to internalise that one!

    Another thing that I find hard to get rid of is stuff I don't use but know I could make money selling (authentic retro stuff, good quality clothes the kids have outgrown). Do I get round to selling them? No, but some are so specific (like the early 60s shot silk dress and coat ensemble I have) that goodwill would likely have no use for them... I'll shut up now, but I wish you (and me) good luck. we do need to let go. I really believe that (in theory) ; )

  2. Marnie, I promise you Goodwill would be happyt to take an early 60s shot silk dress & coat!

    I'm a Goodwiller - I drop tons of stuff off (especially lately, as you know) and I treasure hunt there. In fact, all of my jackets except one are from our local Goodwill. Plus I have a gorgeous Forstmann wool coat from the 50s that I picked up there. It's a treasure.

    However, if you LOVE that silk ensemble, I'd say keep it, but if you don't or feel middling about it, someone out there will be overjoyed at finding it.