I am constantly struggling with my belongings; the number of them I own, whether or not I need them; where to put them; whether or not to keep them. It’s an ongoing process of examining and re-examining, which usually ends up with everything going straight back to whichever drawer, cabinet or box it came from.
I rent apartments for my housing. It’s a situation that isn’t going to change soon. Not that I mind, as the pitfalls of home ownership are a huge part of the financial woes that are such a huge issue in our society today. Renting has also taught me one valuable lesson; where you live isn’t a set of rooms or a building. Where you live is an entire neighborhood that can extend for several city blocks, and I haven’t found one yet to which I want to make a commitment. My neighborhood has undergone huge changes over the past seven years as a liberal arts college has “expanded into the community” by buying houses, and even entire apartment complexes, to convert into student housing. This takeover meant one move for me six years ago. Evidently I did not move far enough away, and was told a month ago that my building has been sold, again to the same college, and that I would need to move.
I saw it coming. I actually lasted in my current digs more than four years longer than I thought I would. My landlord gave me two months’ notice, and told me that if I chose to continue renting from them in another building that they would give me a free month’s rent. This is too good a deal to pass up in my cash-strapped household. I agreed to a month-to-month lease on a one-bedroom apartment in a complex I hope will remain college-free for a while to come. The apartment will be ready for me in about six weeks, and in the meantime, I have to get ready to move.
My new apartment has many advantages, including to-die-for new windows (!), free water and hot water (!), a view onto a beautiful field (!), and is walking distance (150 feet!) from my rented garden plot. I’m happy about the saved money, the beautiful view, and the spitting-distance from my garden. There are, however, a couple of problems. One is that I’ll have to rely on friends to help me move, and I want to make it as easy as possible, in case I need to ask them again for help sometime soon. The other is that it’s smaller. Cozy and snug, but smaller. I am losing precious storage space. Two huge storage closets will be replaced by (gulp) linen closet and a coat closet. Clearly the time to reduce has come. I’ll have to get rid of at least a few things to make it work. I’ve been meaning to cut back of the clutter for a while, and it seems that now is the time to do it.
Getting help on moving day hasn’t been a problem this time, as friends have volunteered to help me. I’m thrilled about this, as the last move was about twice as much effort as I thought it would be. And I still haven’t forgotten the time I helped my sister and her husband move 75 miles. It took seven days, using three cars to make two 150-mile round-trips, to get everything that wouldn’t fit onto the moving van to their new house. Amazing, it brought us closer together as a group, and there wasn’t one argument.
But because finding good help on moving day can be an issue, I put a moratorium on buying anything once I got into my present apartment. Sheets, towels, a new set of dishes, and several houseplants as the exceptions to this rule, but I’ve held the “fun stuff” to a minimum. I get a thrill out of this restraint, probably because I know it’s in my best interest, and fits in with my tendency toward a Spartan sense of life.
And then ther's the rest of it. On top of everything else, I have a bicycle to think about. And I have literally boxes of things that I haven’t looked at or thought about since the last move. Why am I moving them again? If I haven’t used the 24 canning jars I moved six years, ago, I’m wondering if I’ll use them in the future. Maybe someone else can use them instead. Clothes that don’t fit go to the charity store, along with some extra fabric that they can shred and make into rags. I like doing this because they employ people to do this type of work.
The drawer full of “toys” in my desk literally hasn’t been opened in so long that I don’t even know what’s in there. All I really remember about it is that I own what is probably the only squirt gun in the world that really works, and I’m pretty sure it’s in that drawer. Giving up the squirt gun is not going to be easy to do. But the rest of the stuff, including about six small picture frames I bought at the dollar store haven’t been used since who tied the dog, and I’m not sure they will be in the future. Could the drawer be used for something more vital – like supplies I now use for the tutoring I do after school?
It’s sad to let go of the many gardening books I’ve collected, but the truth is that I haven’t looked at most of them since 1997. I spent a lot of time and money learning as much about gardening as I once knew, but I haven’t done much with it since the local newspaper was sold and they cancelled my garden column. I’m not really getting rid of the books: I’m getting rid of my college education and everything that went along with it. After much thought, the books went to the library book sale. I owe them something; I’m using its computer right now. Once this decision was made, making the trip was easy.
I’ve realized that much of my angst doesn’t have to do with most of my belongings, per se. It’s where the stuff comes from that makes it important, hence difficult to get rid of. By far the easiest things to get rid of are those that I bought for myself. I don’t know why I bought most of this stuff, except it was fun having a little conversation with the cashier. (I suspect this transaction is the reason why most people buy things anyway, but that’s left for another time.) Most of these things (about six loads) have already made their way to the charity shop. I chastise myself for spending so much money on junk, but it was fun at the time, and the time for it to go is now.
The most difficult-to-deal-with group is the things that belonged to my mother. She had a lot of things, many of which belonged to her mother, who brought them from the Netherlands when she immigrated to America right after World War I. In addition to these heirlooms, my mother had her own collection. After starting a full-time job with benefits when she was in her early 60’s, she found herself with a steady supply of spare change. She happily spent this in antique malls, and thrift shops on what became a rather large collection of small to medium-sized things. Added to the linens from my dad’s mom, and whatever was left from her six children, Mom had a lot of stuff, which had to be divided between me and my five siblings when she died 12 years ago. I got most of the furniture and kitchenware, but I also got my share of the little things, too. Now, looking at them, it’s hard to give them up, either because they might have some real value, or because they are irreplaceable. They’ll have a place in my new home.
And I won’t be able to let go of the snugglies, throws, coverlet and blankets I’ve received as gifts over the years. Apparently my family is concerned that I might be cold during the winter, because nearly every year I get something for a special occasion that’s bought with the idea of keeping warm during the winter. I won’t let go of these things, because I love the fact that they’re concerned about me being warm, and I warm up just looking at them.
It’s hard for me to do what’s best for me at times, but cutting down on the clutter has brought real benefits. I’m feeling lighter and more confident. With any luck, I won’t have to downsize again for a while. I now see the things I keep as valuable, which will make finding a place for them much easier. And it definitely means that I’ll be able to find a place for the squirt gun.