Things You Don’t Have to Keep

One of the benefits of moving is that you get to go through everything you own, piece by piece and decide whether or not you want to drag it with you into your shiny new life in your shiny new home. As many of my friends have pointed out, this is also its major drawback.

Because there was an overlap between taking on our new apartment and closing on our house, Alan and I have been able to be really methodical in the sorting process on this move. As the deadline draws closer, I know that some things that shouldn’t make the cut probably will, but for now, we are jettisoning a whole lot of stuff that no longer serves us. And that feels really, really good.

There are a lot of unquestioned assumptions that go into generating our clutter. Things that we’re told we have to hang on to that we just accept until the piles grow too big and the feelings associated with them drag us down too low.

I’m learning to question those assumptions.

A few years back, I let go of my high school yearbooks. I hated high school. Never signed up for anything. Wasn’t at all popular. Was so undistinguished, in fact, that if ever I meet up with someone I went to school with back then, they don’t remember me at all. And yet, because we’re told that our yearbooks are precious mementos, I dragged those suckers from house to house to house, allowing them to radiate their Ugh energy into my life for far too long. It felt good to send them on their way.

You’re also supposed to keep all your journals, which I finally realized was nonsense. At least it is for me. Because my journals are not meant to be a record of what’s happening in my life. I use them to get the gunk out of my head, unspooling confusion and resentment and anything else from my brain through my pen and onto the page. And once it’s out of my head, it should go out of my life. The day I tore the covers off many years worth of journals and  put them in the recycle bin, my health took a major leap forward. Just recently, I got to the last page of my most recent journal and chucked it in the bin before the ink had even dried. Felt so good.

I had a scrapbook given to me by my Nana when I was six. The year I missed more days of school than I attended because I was sick. I finally had my tonsils out and my entire class made get well cards. The teacher had written the words ‘hospital’, ‘tonsil’ and ‘operation’ on the board but neglected to spell my name. I was told through the years that this scrapbook was gold and I should save it for the rest of my life. Half a century later (!) I finally took a clear-eyed look at it and realized that it only served to remind me of people who had died and a time in my life that my parents feared I would, too. That thing was just a big old coil-bound pile of sad and it needed to go.

I kept the one card my family remembers best, the one that gave me the nickname Brbu. The rest is gone and I’m feeling happier with it out of my life.

I told my sister what I was doing and she admitted that she’s come to similar conclusions at her house. She got rid of a stack of sympathy cards recently because why would she keep them? “I’m not going to forget they died.” And the friends who gave them to her are either still her friends and still supportive or they are not part of her life any more and why add the sadness of that to the sadness of hanging onto a sympathy card?

A friend came over to help me do some packing and I told her some of the things that I had parted with. She was really happy for me. And looking forward to the time when she will downsize, spoke happily of paring down her kitchen supplies to just a couple of plates and glasses and some cutlery.

And then she helped me pack up a couple dozen wine glasses. Because we have big dinner parties with lots of glassware on the table and paring back wouldn’t actually improve our life.

In any of this, there may be things that actually make you smile, that are really useful to you. Those things are worth hanging onto, if you have the space. But the things that people tell you that you have to keep? Pffffft. Let them keep their own crap. As a grown-up, you get to let go of anything that doesn’t serve you well.


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8 Responses to Things You Don’t Have to Keep

  1. Tim Dwyer says:

    Much Happiness in your new home! There’s nothing better to de-clutter one’s life than moving to another country with only a couple of suitcases. I hope to see you while I’m in town.

  2. Ann says:

    I so love this piece, and timely, must share with my pack rat partner.

    Just made what is hoped our final move on earth and still have to do a round 3 of “getting rid”, although spent almost one day reading various cards and notes from our children, made for some clearer insight of who they are/were from a very young age.

    Happy move Brbu.

  3. Deb says:

    Inspiring as usual and validating today too. Now to help the partner see the light. Made progress on tools we will never use, clothes we will never wear, magazines I didn’t read and never will. Guilt at forking money out on mags you never opened doesn’t motivate you to read them. Sigh. Note to self: borrowing mags from library and not reading them is much lighter on the mind. Anyone need a rusty pick axe with no handle?

  4. sandy says:

    I’m currently working on keeping my joyful memories and jettisoning all the crap outta my head. Getting lighter everyday. Thanks for sharing your experience with decluttering your material world – you’re inspiring my inner work!

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