THE BURNING OF THE THINGS
Updated: Apr 18
Have you ever fantasized about watching it all burn?
I used to think of this often. I'd be in the middle of something and I'd start noticing all the stuff around me--- all the clutter. I'd think about my real estate photos, perfectly staged, bright, and minimal. I wanted my house to look like that. Why is my house always a mess? And then I'd wonder what would happen if the house caught on fire and there was nothing left.
We think these things are important, but if our house burned down would we even remember everything that we had? Would the kids miss their toys?
If the fire started and we had the time to each grab one thing on our way out what would it be?
And the answer would come to me instantly---- the kids and the dog. Everything else can be replaced. Our bank will give us new cards. We can get a new license, birth certificates, social security cards. Someone in the family has copies of our favorite pictures. There is nothing in this house so valuable that it can't be replaced. Nothing. Ok, my first dog's ashes, that can't be replaced, but you see where I'm going with this, right?
So then why does going through stuff to donate feel so nostalgic? Why do we have such a hard time giving away our baby's first onesie or those adorable little booties? Why do we have such a hard time giving away Grandma's silver or the crystal vase that always held her favorite flowers on Sundays? Why do we have such a hard time donating the dress blues from his Marine Corps days? Or the little black dress you wore when he took you on your first grown-up date?
When I moved out of my first rental I remember sitting on the stairs crying. The movers were there, my in-laws were there, my mom was there, my husband was there---all staring at me. I was so overwhelmed with stuff. How did it get here? We moved all of it with us to our new home and the next one after that. Most of it stayed boxed up for three different moves and hid in a designated storage area for more than ten years.
A few years ago my husband went to help one of our closest friends move. They had two kids under three at the time, and when he got there the wife was sitting on the floor crying, surrounded by empty boxes, just staring at stuff. Like me, she had no idea where to start.
I see this all the time in houses. I see mamas have break downs because they are stressed, and they are embarrased that they have let their stuff take over their homes. Most of the time it's family rooms full of toys and things that keep their kids entertained. A lot of times it's years and years of accumulation; previous lives stored away in basements and closets. The house is "neat", but the storage space and closets are overflowing.
The story of stuff is usually the same. Couples move in together with stuff from their separate lives that they can't part with. They have kids and they accumulate stuff. At some point a parent downsizes and gives them all these boxes of memories from their childhood--- trophies, pictures, artwork, awards, hand-me-downs. Before they know it, their first house is too small for them. They need more storage space.
And with more space comes more stuff.
Everything we have in our home meant something to us at one time. It represented the person we desired to be. Some of it we keep because we desire to be that person again. Hello favorite jeans from 20lbs ago!
We save things "just in case". We save things to share with our kids when they are grown. We save things because it was given to us by someone special who is no longer here. We save things for the memories they represent. We save things because they've been handed down from generation to generation. We save things because we think it might be worth something some day.
We attach meaning to things; and that is what makes it so hard to let them go. And the more things we give meaning to, the more space those things take up--- physical space and mental space.
I don't subscribe to the method of asking if every item in our home brings "joy". There are things we just "like". There are things that have a purpose but don't necessarily make us "feel" anything. Rather than asking yourself if the item brings you "joy", ask yourself if this item is representative of the person you are today or the person you want to become. If it's holding you to a past version of yourself, how is it serving you now? Some of you will say those things remind you of "where you came from". If that past version of you motivates you today, is it serving you in a box in the basement or would it better serve you if you had a picture of the item that you could look at every day?
I'll go into this in more detail in a later post. For now, if you are overwhelmed with stuff, start with a bag and let go of the things that are easy to part with first. Junk drawers are easy 5-minute cleanups that make you feel good when you're done.