#33. Purging

No, not the gross kind. That’d hardly be a change for the better. Unless…would it? No! Would it? NO! That would be wrong. Seriously, how have I digressed this far in the first paragraph? I think that must be a record-setter. There’s no graceful way to return to the actual topic at hand after that off-color sidestep, so I’ll just dive right in: the purging I’m referring to for this week’s change is about STUFF! Getting rid of stuff! I’ve noted here before that sometimes the universe cooperates in amazing ways and this week was a case in point. After a visit to my basement store room revealed that items have apparently been mating and multiplying, I was already contemplating a change along these lines. Then, a friend started a little Facebook project called “2,010 Challenge: 30 Day, 30 Items.” The idea was this: if they could find 67 people to pledge to get rid of one item a day for 30 days, it’d be 2,010 things gone. Donated! Recycled! Trashed! Released into the ether! (By the way, as of my writing this, they had recruited 156 members and it's not too late to join!)

I feel like the last few week’s changes have been exhausting, but I could really get behind this one. Readers might recall that I’ve mused a bit before about my penchant for stuff, so I won’t repeat myself here musing about how much I love things. I did succeed in my previous change to get through seven days without acquiring new things.

But this felt bigger. Purging seven things wouldn’t be that much of challenge, but a seven-day kick off to a month-long pledge felt BIG. Revolutionary.

Whether it’s yet another byproduct of this past year of change, or just the fact that I’ve been watching Hoarders and hoping to God that’s not me, I feel more ready than ever to let go of things. Don’t get me wrong. I still love things. It’s just that, as I alluded to before, I want to love the things I have. Not just have a bunch of pointless things or, as turned out to be the case, a ton of things I didn’t even realize I still had.

Now that I’ve been doing this for a few days, I've decided that I think it’s a brave thing to let go – especially if, like me, you have attachments to things as memories, substitutions for people or feelings or longings. To trust that you can get rid of those things and know that you’ll be okay may sound obvious, but for a sentimentalist like yours truly, it’s a Big Deal.

Another big discovery I made this week – and by “big discovery” I mean “thing I sort of already knew but was ignoring” – was that in addition to storing my past, I’ve been storing my future. I have countless piles of things I stored away for “maybe one day,” things I bought thinking I would make something with them or frame something in them or paint them or find a place for them in some forever house I hope to have one day down the road. So much of my clutter is about stuff that isn’t real, doesn’t reflect my actual existence.

In the past, I simply couldn’t let go of those possibilities. I will learn to spin bunny hair into fine yarn! I may still use that stained glass and learn how to solder! I might find a corner for that lamp! I suppose I felt like letting go of them was to compromise myself somehow or admit defeat. Limiting my future in some way, robbing myself of something.

I think, if I may be philosophical for a moment, that hanging on to the maybes is far more important if you don’t like the actualities. That is, a lot of this stuff was acquired at times in my life where I didn’t know where I was headed or what I wanted to be. Times when I wasn’t content with my present. Now, I still don’t know where I’m headed or what I want to be – but I am content with my present. I’m fine exactly where I am. I don’t need all these props to represent options. I’m okay letting them go.

And so I did. Here are the things I got rid of my first seven days – and the things they made me think about.

Day 1: A stack of old knitting books

Part of this was just being pragmatic: paring down books that basically repeated information I have in other, more frequently used books. Some had patterns I once thought I’d make but no longer fancied – and, in some cases, couldn’t imagine why on earth I thought that was a good look in the first place. Others had patterns I still thought I might one day make if I met someone who could perhaps kind of get away with wearing that sweater.

But if it hadn’t happened in five or ten years, I think I can accept that it probably wasn’t going to happen. So if you’ve been holding your breath, waiting for the color block cardigan with removable zippered sleeves, I’m sorry.

I also realized that I acquired a number of these books at a time when there weren’t so many knitting websites around. Now I can get a lot of these patterns – or similar ones – online. Or I can check the books out of the library. In other words, let the public library and the internet house the clutter. It’s outta here!

Day 2: Our old TV

Just a few weeks ago, Chris and I bought our first new television set in well over a decade. It was time. The volume didn’t work great, it weighed a thousand pounds. It was a square screen in a landscape world. It didn't even have some of the inputs we needed for our DVR. Like the mature adults we occasionally pretend to be, we replaced it with a nice, light flat panel dealio that we had saved up enough cash for! Cash!

When Chris asked what he should do with the old set, I told him to put in the basement. (For the record, it never made it that far. It’s been sitting in the dining room for two weeks, either waiting for someone to help Chris carry it downstairs or maybe waiting for it just to vaporize.) Let me be clear about this: there is absolutely no reason to put that old, outdated set in the basement. Except for my irrational fear that we might need it one day. We might need a back up TV. For what? For why? I’m a person who doesn’t have bottled water in case of a weather emergency, but I need a back up TV?

As soon as I heard myself saying the words, “It’s perfectly good. We can’t just get rid of it,” I saw the mirage of the Hoarders camera crew in my basement, shoveling the carcasses of mummified house pets out from below the old TV set. Fine. Let it go. If I ever get my 15 minutes of fame, it is not going to be on that show.

Day 3: Ikea mirrors

Oh, this one embarrassed me because it really spoke to my flair for excess, my lack of impulse control, the countless unfilled promises. In my basement I found a stack of no fewer than 15 of these little square mirrors I bought at Ikea. About seven years ago. I got ‘em back when we lived in St. Louis and made a road trip to Chicago and visited the Ikea. I shopped like it was the last time I’d ever be inside the store. (I know live 20 minutes from one and, uh, they still have these same mirrors. Hundreds of 'em. Same price. Turns out there as NO DANGER of ever being without them.)

But, readers! I had a million ideas for these mirrors, all of them about 700 craft and design ideas ago. They were going to get painted and grouped above the couch. Or mosaic-ed and given as gifts. Or collaged…or…something.

They didn’t. They aren’t. They’re gone.

Day 4: Creepy snow babies

Believe it or not, this one was harder than I anticipated. Not because I love these creepy snow baby statuettes, but because my husband bought them for me when he was on a business trip. He saw them at some flea market and knew I would find them both hideous and hilarious. And I did! I do!

Thus, they make me feel warm and fuzzy, knowing that my husband knows me so well, that he sees crazy stuff and thinks of me when he’s on the road. Clearly it’s not the snow babies that make me want to hang onto them – it’s the sentiment.

But then I looked at them. I mean, really looked at them. And they freaked the shit out of me. GONE!

Day 5: Trio of purses

For part of this week, I just wandered from closet to closet, opening each door, staring wordlessly at the content inside, considering. Then I’d close the door, nothing in hand, and move to another closet. In the closet in my office, I came face to face with a pile of purses I hadn’t even thought of in years.

I took a deep breath and pulled them down: five in total. Only one I’d used in the past year, but I kept two of them anyway. The sensible choice, of course, was my travel purse, the one with the zillion little pockets, an unquestionably wise “keep.” I got the sense that this was what one was meant to do: hang onto stuff that they actually used. Hmmm…innnnnnteresting.

However, the other keeper was a purse I’ve never used. It’s an impractically small and totally pristine handmade Italian leather purse my mother brought back from a trip many years ago. It’s an exquisite little thing, even if I’ve never managed to pare down my belongings enough to press it into service. More than anything, though, it’s a concrete example of something my late mother thought of for me. We didn’t always have the easiest relationship and, simply put, this brings me comfort. I suppose part of this process is also admitting when you’re not ready to let things go and not have it mean defeat.

On the other hand, there was a mod-ish color block purse, which had belonged to my mother at some point. When we were going through her things, shortly after her death, this purse was among a few things of hers I claimed – and I’m not sure why. I think perhaps because I thought I might use it. I was wrong about that. It simply isn’t me. And, in truth, it isn’t her. That is, I don’t have any particular memories of her using it. It doesn’t mean her to me. I have other things that do. So while it wasn’t easy to decide to let it go, I know someone will appreciate it and that makes more sense than hanging onto it.

The second purse to go? A gift nearly ten years ago. Pretty. Green. Never used. After the catharsis I'd been through with the other purses, this one felt like a no-brainer.

The third purse was a tote bag I’d sewn myself, my first really complicated piece. It was the first one I was really proud of, the quality of materials, the things I learned, the workmanship. But it turned out to be a little too small to be impractical, not heavily enough interfaced to be durable. And the fabric I’d picked on a whim didn’t suit me in the end. Still. It was tough to let it go. But I’m not using it. Sometimes a decision needs to be boiled down to that essence.

Day 6: Sparkly red halter top

Much like the purse of my mom’s and the fabric of the tote I’d sewn, some things I stumbled upon reminded me of how impulsive I can be and how little I know my own tastes at times. Whether it’s that I think I’m something I’m not or I just want to be something else, there’s nothing like a rock-bottom clearance price to make me snatch up something that makes no sense whatsoever.

Nothing illustrates this point more than a sparkly red halter top I found stuffed in the back of the closet. I honestly have no idea where or when I bought this, but I know I did. Leaving aside the fact that it was a few sizes ago, I can’t imagine what circumstances I thought I would wear such a thing. But clearly I did. Only…I didn’t. So there you have it. Someone with a flashier bent is about to have a great treat at Goodwill.

Day 7: Sparkly candle holders

Speaking of flash, I have an insane affinity for this pair of pretty candle holders. I don’t know why. Yes, I do – and it’s a problem I’ll encounter with a number of items in my basement going forward. It’s not the item I value, but the person who gave them to me. They were a gift from a lovely relative, someone who’s very caring and thoughtful in her selection of presents.

And those are sometimes the hardest things to get rid of, the things that guilt dictates I hang onto. The things I know would hurt feelings if the giver knew I discarded them. But I need another set of candle holders like I need a hole in the head. They had a spot in my living room for a few years, then they just didn’t fit anymore. I always think I’m going to find a place to put them, but I don’t.

God, the waffling is painful! This, I think, is where the bravery steps in. This is where I close my eyes, grit my teeth and put them on the Goodwill pile, even if it hurts my people-pleasing bones to do so. This is where I hope the giver doesn’t read this week’s blog entry. Or if she does, that she forgets she gave them to me. Or if she remembers, that she forgives me for letting them go.

After all, this is the same relative who says, on every occasion that arises, “Don’t buy me anything! I’m trying to get rid of stuff, not acquire it!” I guess, maybe in this way, my letting go of the sparkly candle holders could be considered an homage! A tribute! A legacy!