04 September 2007


I'm trying to declutter, for various reasons. Heeding Tenured Radical's most excellent (and previously-linked-to) advice about moving (specifically, her injunction not to let any trash day pass by without attention to all the stuff of moving, which also applies to anyone trying to declutter), I have just endured hordes of mosquitos in order to carry out two bags of trash from the basement (various videotapes of TV episodes, various unlabeled videos that had been in the basement for several months, and old medical documents from 2000 that had gotten moldy in a box in a corner of the basement). I have discovered it is very easy to start pitching things if you start by looking for boxes that have been lurking in the basement for at least three years. Things I've not looked at for so long just don't seem quite so precious.

But......I have to admit, I can see where Curious Girl gets her "But this is so SPECIAL to me!" from when I look at certain kinds of things. Like the small wall hanging from Gujarat that one of my former students brought back for me seven years ago. I've lost touch with him, and I'd been wondering where the hanging--which I don't think ever actually got hung up--went. I found it tonight. I'm not sure I have a place here for it, but I'm not sure what to do with it. So I'm asking myself, "What would Ianqui do?" She frequently writes about environmental issues, and really models a very attainable approach to lifestyle changes: there are more radical environmental blogs out there, but Ianqui's simple emphasis on, well, simplicity and avoidance of overconsumption has really been a good companion for me in the past year as I've worked to think about consumption with a growing child. I had the chance to meet her last spring, and I hope she doesn't mind that I've created an alter-ego of her blog persona who lives in my head and is the imaginary recipient of my thinking about decluttering. My WWID conversations have stepped up quite a bit of late b/c of this decluttering project, helped along by the fact that Curious Girl's stuff has been exploding around the house. Curious Girl, not so interested in not consuming: she's a bundle of desire, always wanting more, more, more. Which is charming in its buoyancy, but which must be managed. (Fortunately, her desires come and go, and the fact that she loves to play pretend more than anything means that she doesn't need much. Much of what she wants seems to be a knee jerk reaction to seeing anything. She sees it, she wants it, in the moment. Not all those desires last. But we talk a lot about why I don't want to bring new stuff into the house if I can avoid it.)

In doing my ten-by-ten series (see sidebar), one of the things I noted about myself is that I sometimes value things too much because I don't trust in my relationships. I think if I keep things, it will make relationships meaningful. This is flawed reasoning: relationships are, and whether I keep mementos or old gifts or cards or whatnot doesn't change what the relationship is (or was). I got rid of the too-small-for-me-sweatshirt from my first girlfriend's college that she had given to me sometime in 1985. I'd kept the sweatshirt for years as a sweet reminder of a sweet time. But really, that sweetness is in my heart and my memories, and the unraveling and too-small sweatshirt in the back of my closet was only getting dusty. So off it went. But this hanging from my student? Harder to give away. But why keep it to have it in a box? Argh. WWID?

Another sort of thing I'm having trouble simply pitching are craft supplies. I don't want to throw away my large bag of yarn because, you know, I might use it for something someday. OK, that's probably not going to happen with most of it (although there's a fine skein there that I bought at the yarn shop in my college town sometime in 1982 which has followed me through probably 12 residences in 2 different countries. Maybe that I'll turn into mittens or a hat/scarf for CG this winter). So I won't use it. But someone could. I just don't know who. Ditto with a very large bag of tapisserie yarn in various colours. Or the box of cloth diapers that we mostly never used. I don't want to just give them to Goodwill for fear they won't get the proper use they could have. I don't want to throw them out because they're useful. But I can't quite figure out how to get them into the hands of someone who might use them. Overwhelming.

That said, I'm having good luck simply saying "tonight, I'll fill one bag (with trash, or with donations)" or "I'm going to find 5 things in the closet that can be passed on" or "find five pieces of junk in the basement to put out or 5 things to pass on to someone else"). That's not so bad.


S. said...

That is your *stash*, Susan! It is sacred! You must keep it to the bitter end and bequeath it to your knitting grandchildren. I have skeins from my granny that I have no clue what to do with.

ppb said...

Totally opposite opinion from S here, but here goes: give away the yarn. There are senior citizens dying for yarn donations...it keeps them off the streets and out of crime. And Boys and Girls Clubs, Girl Scout Troops (especially my favorite: girl scouting behind bars--troops for girls with incarcerated mothers---they really need donated craft supplies.)

I've learned one lesson with saving stuff for "maybe"--if, when that situation comes about (losing 25 pounds, getting motivated to sew a quilt) I know in my heart of hearts that I'm going to strongly prefer new stuff, there is no point in hoarding the stuff I have now.

But ask me about the CD collection. Go ahead. It will frighten you. Craft supplies I'm ruthless on, but do I have my entire John Denver CD collection? why yes, yes I do. Have I listened to it in the last 15 years? What's your point?

Rev Dr Mom said...

I am very like you in this respect. I was looking for something else the other day, and I found both an old cross stitch project started when my nephew was a baby (he's grown now) and yarn bought in Iceland 30 years ago. Yes, really. The cross stitch project may finally get finished for my future grandchild,and the yarn--who knows?

I do get rid of things-I've moved enough that I'm pretty good at it, except for things that have any vague sentimental attachment. I think I hold onto those things because I've been fairly "rootless" in other ways.

Anyway, I empathize.

apparently said...

I'm with ppb - donate it. Call around and ask your favorite charity or call United Way and ask them for a local charity. Or freecycle - where you can also pick up other people's basement stash http://www.freecycle.org/

Phantom Scribbler said...

Er, I spent a week or two in Gujarat one summer, and I've always regretted that I never brought back a wall hanging. Not that I have any place to put a wall hanging, of course, but considering that I am still hanging on to the traditional tribal outfit that I acquired while in Gujarat, which is even less functional than a wall hanging, who am I to say?

Ianqui said...

Oh, I have a sentimental streak too. I still have a plastic pouch with letters I received from my camp friends, and I have all manner of (mostly paper) wall-hangings rolled up into poster tubes. I focus more on taking control of the new things that come into my house--the gifts, the stuff I could potentially buy myself, etc.

I'm lucky that I take a perverse pleasure in decluttering. I'm also lucky that I live in a Manhattan apartment. For example, Super G and I have a conservation of shoes policy. If we buy one pair, another pair goes out. (On the other hand, Super G has a Commodore 64 in his closet that he refuses to get rid of that I yell at him for periodically, to no avail.)

Here's my current worry: someday we're going to have a kid, and when that happens, how am I going to prevent people from giving us stuff, beyond the crib/onesies/baby bath that we need? How am I going to tell people NO TOYS???!!! You'd think it would be enough to point out that we live in a 700sqft apartment, but I'm not sure that's going to sink in, since they're used to buying gifts for my sister and his brother who live in 3500+sqft houses. So if anyone has advice for that, please let loose.

susan said...

Hmm...I am feeling less sacred about the stash, S., (although I'm happy to send it to you for your knitting grandchildren :), with the possible exception of the college-era skein. Perhaps Rev. Dr. Mom and I need to start a craft meme involving projects using supplies at least 20 years old.

Ianqui, on the kid stuff: you can't always control what people give you, but you can control what you do with it. I don't pass on to CG every present she gets. (And presents decline as the kid gets older, I have found, but then, we live very far away from family and that may decrease the number of random toys that relatives might otherwise be presenting--that things arrive in the mail also makes it easier for me to control what happens to them.) I've found that simply periodically sweeping through to take away stuff that's not getting used (and then hiding in the basement for months to test that CG doesn't remember it) sometimes helps.

Although your photography may be a problem. When CG sees baby things in photos, she wants to play with them again, and it's an iffy proposition as to whether she's going to be graceful about the absence of an item.

susan said...

Oh, and welcome, apparently!

Magpie said...

Well, send the yarn to S., send the wall hanging to Phantom, put the diapers on Craig's List or Freecycle (can't sell them on eBay, it's against the rules now).

I shouldn't talk. I've inherited the keep everything gene from both parents.

timna said...

I once again forgot to call the donation people for tomorrow. But at least the water bed mattress will be gone today, via craig's list.

It's really hard to help the kids have clear desks when mine is so full (plus piles of overflow). Not being a good example is hard.

Arwen said...

I've found that being up to my ears in the struggle to control other people's clutter has made me much less sentimental about my own stuff. I live in a maelstrom of small plastic animals, and now I hate things on the premise that I have to clean them up/coax the children into cleaning them up.

But I hold on to things to remind me of relationships, too. I do miss things in abstract because I know (from finding things I didn't chuck), that sometimes a thing does have a memory to it that I otherwise can't or don't access. But, not all things. So now I constrain my memories to what I can put in a photo album. I've got a bit cut out of a shirt for exactly that reason. Photos, ticket stubs, a bit of fabric, a bit of wool.

Craigslist is wonderful for giving stuff to a good home.

landismom said...

I'm a big fan of freecycle, too. If your freecycle is anything like mine, you could definitely give away craft supplies, yarn, etc.

You might also donate them to a school--I know that we hang on to empty egg cartons, for example, because the art teacher at my daughter's school sends out a request for them (to hold paint) once a year or so.

suszoz said...

I'll third Freecycle - it's much more direct than giving stuff to a charity shop. You can usually sign up for an email list.