I was around 10-12 the first time I was observed clearing out a house full of someone else’s belongings. My grandmother died and my cousins and I were taken along for the week long venture of dividing and distributing her things. We didn’t truly clear out that house because my aunt and uncle continued to live in it for many years but we had to clean out a lot of things that had been in the house for decades. Mostly I watched. And wondered why some of my relatives were taking so much stuff back to houses that already had a lot of stuff in them already. My mom wound up with the amber cake plate that was used for birthday cakes. It traveled from my grandmother’s house, to my mom, to my sister, to me, back to my sister, and now to my niece over the years. This was one item that was meant to be kept.
Throughout my childhood I watched my mother sort boxes. It was something she did in the evenings and when she could not sleep. There were boxes and boxes of letters and papers in our house. It was only when she knew for certain that she was dying that she began to throw things out that she did not want any of us to read. The house was filled with magazines, dishes, more linens than three families could use, and dead appliances. My dad never let a toaster, frying pan, electric anything leave the house because he knew he could fix it. I threw out a lot of dead appliances when we cleaned out the family home. I also carried a lot of things with me to new homes – dishes, teapots, some of the linens that had been left, photos, papers and furniture.
Over the years I have either had to clean out houses or have helped other relatives clean out houses. It is always a big task that takes a great deal of time and is emotionally draining.
I’ve moved a fair amount in my adult life though I have been in my current home for nine years. In previous moves I discarded quite a bit. I put 13 boxes of dissertation research on the side of the street hours before I learned I had been awarded a national prize for my dissertation. I have sold or given away furniture that was heavy and too hard to move anywhere else. I’ve given away books and clothes many times. My first big decluttering adventure was after I came back from sabbatical and before I moved to Florida. I put everything in storage for the year I was on sabbatical. I couldn’t believe that I paid to store some of the things that came out and back into my apartment. I also had to face what I was going to do with the things I acquired while on sabbatical. I have a clear picture in my mind of standing on Joseph and Mitzi’s back porch and having Diane Ferlatte ask me why I needed to move Fluffy anywhere. (Fluffy is the dog. His real name is Chuck and he is a puppet.) I did eventually move Fluffy, but I left or threw out quite a bit of the other things I had acquired that year.
Fast forward to about two years ago. I began realizing that my house was filling up with things that I no longer needed. Some of these things were items that had been moved over the years – the books, the dishes, the clothes, etc. I really didn’t need many of them. Maybe part of the realization came as I began to change physically. I didn’t need to hang onto clothes I thought I would never wear again. Part of it was looking at books and other things and realizing that they were from a different time in my life. I had moved to new interests and ideas. So I began clearing things out. I do have photos from the first big purge somewhere but I can’t find them on my computer so maybe I have actually purged those files as well.
I went through files of papers that I knew I would never look at or use again. I wanted simplicity. I have continued cleaning out for the past few years. Sometimes I have taken a chunk of time – spring break or my Christmas break – and concentrated on rooms or closets. More often I have taken a few files or a drawer at a time and have made decisions. Most recently I joined the Be Less with More 21 day decluttering challenge to finish up my task. It turned out that a friend was also doing the challenge so we have been great encouragement to one another.
One of the things that made me feel pretty good with this challenge was what I had already done. I also honed and refined some areas, revisiting files and books in particular but also items that were tucked away in cupboards. I took a carload to TES and have given items to people as well as sold a few items. My house is much more open and feels lighter. There is room for something new to come in.
In the next day or two my house will go on the market. I don’t know how long it will take. I’m ready for a smaller space and my task of moving will be easier because I no longer have so much stuff to pack and move. I’ve become a bit ruthless in my decluttering but I have only missed one item that I got rid of and, truthfully, it was not something I used so I don’t really miss it after all.
I know this is not the way everyone wants to live. I have found openness and more freedom since I began to downsize, however. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.