This article was first published in August, 2009 on Divine Caroline. This is pre-blog and the second article I wrote and published on-line. It speaks to what I mentioned in my yard sale pieces about that last yard sale I had after I shut my shop down.
As a housewarming gift, our friends rented us a moving van. This was not so much an act of kindness but self-preservation. They knew me. They knew my stuff. The moving van couldn’t fit it all in. My stuff reached critical mass when I shut the doors of my gifts and antiques shop and the leftovers came home to my garage. There I stood shadowed by teetering piles of my stuff and contemplated the sorting process for a yard sale. I had a profound thought about my stuff and me. My definition of myself could change and thus the context of my stuff would change. I was no longer a shop owner. I’d either find the perfect place for an item or it would become totally unnecessary.
I had come by my pack rat tendencies honestly. As I grew up, so did the piles in our basement chock full of dusty paper ream boxes brimming with old plastic kitchen thingamajigs and macramé magazines from the 70’s. Like many in America, my grandparents survived the Great Depression and passed down their “waste not, want not” mentality to my mother. According to a Johns Hopkins study, the percentage of our society with a problem with hoarding stuff is staggering at way over 50%.
If the self-storage facilities popping up on the highways are any indication, our society defines itself by increments of more. More is better. But now we have obesity of possession. The cause of our stuff-itis epidemic may be economical, societal, historical, or familial. No matter when your husband’s dropping subtle hints that he wants his “Happy Space” back or else the stuff gets it.
I had a couple of mental speed bumps on my road to recovering my space. Too much of what I owned seemed to have excessive sentiment attached. If the object was a reminder of fond memories of childhood or Grandma, it had extra meaning. But if everything’s special, nothing is. My brain got stuck when I knew I’d spent money I’d never get back. But some money back by selling it is more than none. Then I was afraid if I ditched it, I’d need it later. The fear of scarcity leads to hoarding and not scarcity’s opposite: abundance. If I have no faith that change will come, I’ll white knuckle what I’ve got and make no room for abundance.
A book from my library provided inspiration. The author suggested throwing fifty things away today. And those things could include unfinished projects or definitions of you that no longer fit. There in the very un-Happy Space, stuff piled up to the ten-foot ceiling, I had an “aha” moment. I could redefine myself and choose to no longer be a “seller of stuff” as I was rather apparently no longer business owner. Anything I owned was mine. Not to be kept for the possible future sale. Armed with some masking tape, sharpies, and empty boxes, I cleared a space to put my priced stuff into. And I placed two ads in the local paper for the yard sale to end all yard sales promising myself good deeds with the profits.
Here are some of my fast and fearless hints for sorting out your stuff:
If an object has sat in one place for a while, it may have developed an invisible force field around it defying you to take action against it. Dismiss your first inclination to leave it there. Pick it up, show it who is boss around your home, and put it in time out somewhere else. Tell it you’ll get to it later and mean it.
If your problem area is a desktop, drawer, closet, or three by three-foot section of the basement floor, commit thirty minutes with a timer to putting all of it, unsorted into a box and/or bag and remove it to another place for sorting at your leisure. You can create keep, repair, toss, and give away piles with signs. Just the action of clearing the spot will give you a boost called hope and clarity on how to proceed. Once again, break the spell.
Trickier items to deal with may be items that were gifted to you, items that represent someone you used to be, and items that other people expect you to keep for them. Beware! These items have been responsible for many brain seizures and the subsequent skedaddling from the commitment to clear clutter. There are rules. You get to “pass along” gifts after a year. Surely the person that gifted it to you would want to see it being used and enjoyed. If it reminds you of an ex-husband or beau or life you’d rather not think about, it’s gone. If the person is no longer living, you could schedule a day to take pictures and make a photo album of the items with notes on their meaning and memories. And keep one item with the album.
The memories belong to you not the objects. And if the items remind you of your former self, or someone you might want to be, all you’ve got is today. Yesterday is history. So are the fashions. And when you get to tomorrow, it’ll be such a big deal that you did lost the weight, you’ll be allowed to buy new stuff. And lastly, if you’re from a family of clutterbugs, someone may have snuck something into your possession and then made rules about your not getting rid of it. That’s the worst. Yes, you should have said no in the first place but … At this point your boundary issues take precedence. You may want to seek therapy and simply let them know, if they want it back, they can come get it before the yard sale.
If you nodded or grunted in response to any of this, there’s still hope for you. My yard sale put $400 in my pocket. Money I had vowed to use for proper storage containers and an electrolysis appointment. I took the unsold leftovers to auction and got another $30 out of it. I never saw any of it again. I had touched that stuff four times and I was quite sick of it. That’s another way to be done with it. And once you move it out, it does not come back. As I continue to figure out what’s important to me, who I am, and what I can let go of, my brain and my living space have opened up. It’s simpler here. I continue to let go of perfection and have opened up to an abundance I used to be skeptical about. You will create what you believe and you won’t what you don’t. And it’s never a done deal.