When Is the Right Time for Ridding Yourself of Stuff?

Yesterday, as I was going through some storage boxes in the basement and garage, searching out our Christmas stockings (circa 1980’s), I was thinking that I really need to get rid of stuff I no longer use. There’s just too much! If I put everything out, I’d have to start in September, and it would take me until March to take it all down again! My Christmas decorating nowadays is limited to a tree in the family room, and wreaths on the front door. Still it takes a whole day to take everything down and into storage again afterwards.  

The problem with not doing the pitching out then and there, which is the logical thing to do of course, is that I keep putting it off until “next year.” Next year it’ll be the same problem, as it is will be every year after that until “one of these days,” another popular phrase in my vernacular. Every item in there, decrepit though it may be, is another memory. Another wordless story. So I keep putting it off for “later.”

Stories abound of offspring who, for time immemorial, ask “Why on earth did she save that thing?” as they’re forced by their parents deaths into the unenviable task of sorting and disposing household goods. A few years before she died, after she was so crippled by arthritis that she could no longer clean and organize as she’d done all her life before, I visited my own mother, and as I looked around at the mess she could no longer control, decided to clean out and organize her kitchen and pantry so that it would be more “user” friendly for her. There were literally hundreds of old plastic commercial containers that had once held margarines and butter and Cool-whip cluttering up the space under the sink. By the time I was finished, there were bags and bags of old magazines and calendars and paper sacks plus other trash to be hauled off to the dump. It was only the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.”

There aren’t plastic containers in my storage boxes. There are memories instead. There are handmade but broken ornaments from the 1970’s, when we made annual family forays into craft shops to choose one for the family to make. The pre-printed and kiddie-hand-sewn fabric ornament–a dog in a striped Christmas stocking. There’s the wooden Christmas goose from a McDonald’s display, one half of a couple, the kids say their friend J****e stole that year and left on our lawn. There’s a whole (heavy) box of painted wood, victorian Santas, that J** and several of us painted over a two or three year period. There’s the fabric tree I sewed one year. The Christmas stockings I made for all the cats, with birdies and mice appliques, and the one for Charlie (the Bichon) with a white bone.

A few weeks ago I was visiting in the home of a woman who’s lived in her house here in Salt Lake City for the past 31 years. It’s a lovely little house on a main cross street in an area called Sugar House, the kind of house that shouts “home” as soon as you walk inside. She was showing me around and as I was admiring the vintage furniture, the homemade rugs covering the bedroom floor, and the obviously loved and oft-washed quilt covering the guest room bed, I remarked how much I liked to surround myself with things that had stories behind them. “That’s because you’re from the south,” she said.

She’d hit the nail on the head as only a fellow southerner could (she’s from Texas, that’s “sort of” southern, isn’t it?), so I guess I can lay the blame at the feet of my ancestors. They all had the same problem getting rid of stuff once they’d owned it. (This brings up one of those “I could tell you stories” moments of how shamelessly some of those relatives acted immediately upon hearing that “granny so-and-so” had died, so bent were they on getting that wooden bowl she’d made biscuits in, but I’ll resist the temptation and save them for another post.) In my case, though, it’s clearly an ancestral genetic disposition that I inherited. What’s your excuse?

But one of these days, really, I will get through those things in storage that we no longer use. I’ll begin with the Christmas boxes. And all those stories from Christmases past will be gone, but I’ll have a cleaner and more organized garage and basement for it. Good trade-off? Or not? We’ll just have to see, won’t we?

6 thoughts on “When Is the Right Time for Ridding Yourself of Stuff?

  1. Oh Alice … this could be a page from my journal. I guess being from Southern Utah counts as from the “south”. I keep saving mine for next year because I have this silly idea my kids will want it. Yeah Right. Their houses and trees could be in Better Homes & Gardens with all their coordinated colors and beautiful decorations. The thing is … they don’t want it but they don’t want me to get rid of it either. Humph … Well I’ll fix them. “Next Year” I’ll put it all out and what isn’t taken I’ll take to the D.I. … Next Year.

  2. Mageb: Tell Duck I absolutely agree with him. But like you say, I’d miss the stories!

    Edna: I only half-heartedly begrudge my daughters’ ability to shrug material things off as easily as they do. At least maybe I had a hand in raising them not to be so darn sentimental about “stuff”, right?

  3. Hmm, I don’t think that’s a gene from only the south. Born and raised in New England, my grandmother, aunts, mother and now ME have that same gene. I’m beginning to think it’s a “female” gene. We’re born with it. To hold on to all that’s precious (or so we think) to us at the moment.
    Ironically, my blog tomorrow is about “simplicity” and the letting go of things as we get older.

  4. I don’t know about the female thing! i know that women are memory-holders, but i also know that in my family of procreation (as opposed to origin), it is the males who hold onto everything material. (And i mean EVERYTHING. small plastic BROKEN toy parts that can’t be discarded, because they might be useful…and on the adult end, scrap material from every house project EVER in the history of our married life….

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