After going through my art studio to eliminate the extras in an effort to simplify, I started going through my closet, my dresser, etc. It was difficult, though. Art supplies are mostly my choice- I picked, them, I bought them, I was okay with letting them go. I was donating all of them, so the idea of sending them on to someone who would really use them and love them made me so much happier than having them.
But clothes, housewares, board games, books were a different story for me. Definitely not as easy to make decisions about. Some of them were gifts, or purchases that Tom and I made together, etc. Some of them you don’t really “use”, you just have and I had to make the decision on whether these things were worth having or not.
I’m the kind of person who attaches a lot of sentimental value on inanimate objects. It’s a good thing because it means I take care of my stuff, but it’s bad because when that thing has outlived its usefulness, I hang on.
Also, I have a really fearful attitude when it comes to money- my parents were both extrememly poor when they grew up, so the value of hard work and how that translated into the money we spent on things like groceries and basics was always discussed. The worth of things and how it translated into how many hours my parents worked for it was very visceral.
So “getting rid of” perfectly good things was difficult for me. A lot of feelings came up about money, and the idea of “waste.” I kept thinking of what things cost and how guilty I felt for not using certain things. I’d get to something that I never used but was an investment of sorts, and I’d think “oh, I really don’t like this and will never use it, but it cost much so I’ll just hold on to it.”
But then I started realizing that the money part is over- that transaction happened ONCE and the money is already gone. There wasn’t some sort of continual transaction happening because the stuff I bought was still in my home. Keeping the item didn’t affect my bank account (just to clarify- these were clothes and art supplies and books- not cars or investment pieces). Plus, if the things I was holding on to simply because of how much they cost were in decent shape, they might be of value to someone else, whereas they had no value if they were sitting in my cabinet, unused and forgotten and creating lots of guilt and resentment.
But then I thought about it thsis way: a person will go out and spend $100 on a night on the town (I sound like a 100 year old woman writing this) and when the night is over, it’s over- the person has the memories but the money is gone and the night is gone. And this is a valid thing to do in our society. So why should I feel guilty about having gone through a happy experience of choosing and ordering something, owning it and loving it, and then letting it go when it’s time to let go? It was still a positive experience, overall. It did bring me joy. If anything, the process of holding on to it out of guilt was killing the joy it once brought me.Letting go would be the more positive choice.
Donating things made the process a lot easier, I will admit. Not only did it feel good to fill up boxes with things people might really need or enjoy, but I felt like I was giving things a second chance to belong to someone who appreciated and would use them.
It took a while, but I made progress and I wanted to tackle not only my dresser and closet, but the entire house. But most of the stuff in the house is *our* stuff and not just *my* stuff and that made me hesitant to do it without Tom and Grace seeing what I was going to donate and giving their okay. I have this big thing about privacy and personal space and boundaries, etc. because my mom used to go through my bedroom when I was a kid/teenager, and my parents felt like it was their right to toss anything that offended them, so I have kind of gone in the opposite direction. Unless I think there’s something dangerous happening (or that Grace abandoned food somewhere, like the time she jammed fresh orange slices into her toy teapots when she was a toddler and left them in there for a few days…) I don’t go through Grace or Tom’s stuff.
But we’ve all been busy, and no one has hours to go through every shelf, drawer, cabinet, closet, etc. so I put it off. I still wanted to get to it, and brought it up, but as time passed on I moved on to tackling other things.
Then Hurricane Irma happened.
Anyway, when we got back home after Hurricane Irma, I was determined to make decluttering a priority.
After I was done cleaning the pool, and before the power came back on, I started an intense house organization thing where I went through EVERY closet, drawer, cabinet, shelf, and bookcase and started relentlessly purging most of our belongings. I’m talking about 80%- I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not. When you are literally put in a situation where you have been told “there’s a good chance your house is going to be flooded out by this storm”, your priorities and perspectives on everything inside that home changes real fast.
I was *serious* about it.
Tom and Grace were fine with me doing it- Tom had been wanting to do the same thing for a while but it’s time consuming. So I did it while I had that time and energy. I had them give me their opinion on a few things, but overall I went through the house room by room, closet by closet, drawer by drawer. I packed boxes and boxes of stuff to donate, bags and bags of stuff to trash. I wanted to do it all while the “evacuate from hurricane, what do you hang on to?” perspective was fresh in my head- I knew that with every day that passed, I’d lose some of that “gotta get it OUT” edge and go back to feeling entirely too comfortable with the amount of stuff we had.
And after the power came on, I kept at it.
I didn’t do Grace’s room or Tom’s spaces- that’s up to them. But every space that I inhabit or share in this house has been swept free of clutter and of things that aren’t useful or deeply meaningful. We still have some clutter, but it’s in the cabinets, behind closed doors. And all of it is stuff we need or use. We buy in bulk online because of where we live (especially things like cat food, bird food, non-perishables, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc.) and I’m not remotely interested in only buying those things when we run out- I like having a supply of them on hand.
I will admit, there’s still a cabinet in the living room where I put all the “extras” that I couldn’t make a decision on. I figure if I put them away and lived without them in sight for a while, the idea of letting them go would be easier.
If nothing else, I’m thankful for the Hurricane simply because it gave me this giant opportunity to do this giant project. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. And I wouldn’t have had the perspective to do it right. It’s been about a month since I finished and I don’t miss anything that we donated/tossed. There’s not a single time that I thought “why did I donate that?!” or needed to replace something.
It’s been a tremendous weight off my shoulders, to be honest. It really does make a huge difference having all this space back. The weirdest thing is how donating so many books made our living room 1000x brighter because now we can see all the white walls behind the shelves!
I don’t know if I would declare it *life changing* (I have not read Marie Kondo’s book- maybe soon) but I can say that not having all that extra stuff around does influence how you feel about things. For me, it was about clarity- I just feel lighter and more focused when I walk into a room and there’s no clutter. There’s no heavy feeling anymore when I walk into the kitchen. The only things on the counter are things we use daily. The only things in the cabinets are plates and cups we use every day or food that we will definitely eat. It’s easier for me to sit down at my desk in the afternoons and make art when the only things on my shelves are supplies I love and know how to use, and when it’s simple to pull them out of their spots and then put them back in when I’m done. I love not having to “reshuffle” anything in the house to get to something else- that’s the best part of all.
And I rediscovered so many things that I was interested in that I forgot about or got distracted from. I’ll talk about this in a future entry, I think.
After I was done with the house, decided to organize my iTunes. I thought might take a morning, but it took about ten days (!!!) worth of mornings. Maybe that’s a lot of time to organize files on a computer, but I listen to music all the time and my iTunes library was just a huge disaster of songs, books, audiobooks, podcasts, voice mails, audio snippets, home videos, and ringtones from my phone, iPad, Kindle, etc. etc. Plus, I had a life’s worth of songs on there- when I first got a CD player on my computer, way back in 1996 or whatever, I went through ALL my CDs and saved them to my hard drive. And I’ve never gotten rid of that music, even when I stopped liking it.
In the last year or so I stopped listening to music and podcasts and started just putting on random YouTube videos because I didn’t want to go through the hassle of opening iTunes and having to search for what I wanted and half the time it being “file cannot be located” etc.
So every morning for about ten days I woke up early, opened iTunes, and I went through each file in that library, moved all the non-music into another folder on my hard drive, deleted songs I didn’t love anymore, re-downloaded songs from iTunes that I had lost, and made a playlist for every artist I had music from, plus some new playlists for the pool and the car and all that.
It was a huge pain in the ass, but it was so rewarding- I rediscovered so many bands I forgot about, and so many songs from my teens and 20’s that I *LOVE* and I’m so happy to be listening to again. REM’s “Murmur”, a bunch of early INXS songs I forgot about. New Order. Talking Heads. (oddly enough a lot of Depeche Mode’s early stuff did not make the cut… my 15 year old self would be shocked.)
But now I have all these perfect playlists ready to go and on my iPhone and my little iPod shuffle that I use in the pool… it’s made such a huge difference in my life to just have that stuff organized.
Next is all my digital photos, which will be a big job. But it’s an opportunity, right?
Now the struggle is to keep things this way. I’m not a fan of having a set number of belongings, and I still buy new art books and small art supplies more than I should, but I am making a BIG effort to make sure that every time I bring in something new, I make sure that there’s not something already in the house that can be donated. And I can usually find at least one thing. I feel like it’s a balanced system now, and and it’s all about maintaining that equilibrium- one in, one out.