Collecting and Letting Go of “Things”

I come from a family of collectors.  Not hoarders.  Tasteful collectors with tastefully placed collectibles.  Each of us has our own particular interests that influence what we collect, and sometimes we overlap.  My sister and I both collect dolls, my dad and I both collect songs, my sister and dad collect art, and my mom, sister and I all have collected pottery, wooden bowls, and family heirlooms at one time or another.  It means that our houses are full, and we have a lot of stuff.  Some of it is in storage, some of it is on display, some of it is in barns, garages, art sheds, basements, and attics.

We also all have our have our great places that we find things, and some become a habit.  My daughter and I absolutely love thrift stores, My sister always goes to the annual art fair in our home town, my mom goes to the pottery guild sales and antique stores with my dad.  We are good researchers and shoppers, know how to find what we want, and know what a good price is.  My sister and my mom and dad really know how to display and take care of their collections, I’m a little more haphazard.  My house is not a wonderful display of my collections, and I do have a problem with piles (although my dad can say that too).  And I do like to keep things.  Because I’ve always got some project I’m doing, and because of my history of working with children, I actually make use of all kinds of things that I’ve kept, perhaps even more than most people do.

So it’s always a task to figure out what to get rid of, and what to keep.  This is true for everyone in my family, and we have our certain places that things pile up, and then we go through them every once in a while and get rid of stuff.  At this very moment, my mom and niece are going through the ironing room, gathering things for both Goodwill and the garbage.  My daughter is constantly reselling the clothes she buys, and recycling the furniture and stuff she gets from both her moms.  I am great at giving away clothes, but when it comes to other stuff, it can be hard.

When I got cancer and thought I did not have long to live, I had a really strong urge to get rid of as much as possible.  We sold furniture and items like backpacks on Craigslist that I’d never use again, I went through piles of papers, and threw out duplicates of songs, newsletters from the schools I’d worked at, letters and cards from students.  Oh, I kept enough to go in one box of “memories/keepsakes”, but my recycling bin was full for several weeks.  I gave away jewelry, instruments, my cross country skis I’d kept just in case, and anything I knew I wouldn’t be able to use anymore because of my back, and because I wasn’t working.  It was a great time of de-cluttering and organizing.  At the same time I was organizing our house in NM, so I gathered things that we’d need there, to take on the next trip.  My daughters were also setting up their homes, so that was a great way to get rid of wine glasses, pans, (all of their furniture and mementos), chairs, and extra blankets.   It was wonderful, because space actually did appear.  That particularly made my partner happy, a person who does not keep things, and likes a sparse environment, although has put up with me and my stuff without complaint.  (She even appreciates the fact that often when we say we need something in particular, I can scrounge around and usually find it within the depths of this house, thus saving us money.)

I have to stick to a plan, however, to keep things from overtaking us.  When I am walking the dogs, and see all the wonderful goodies that people put out for free in front of their houses, I only take things that I can think of a specific use for.  I have found a nightstand, an iron tea pot in great condition, wooden salad bowls, toys and clothing for my grandchild, wooden chairs, and food, such as a box of Granny Smiths, or a box of pears in the neighborhoods around here.  Each of these has a place, either here or in NM.  Now I have to extend that plan to the things I am trying to decide whether or not to keep.  Although we have two houses now, it will eventually be one very small house that we live in, and everything has to fit or be given away or sold.  So I am thinking about the pressed oak chair with handles that is so beautiful, but doesn’t fit under our table, and doesn’t get used in the living room, and can’t fit down the basement to be stored.  Do I keep trying to find someplace for it, or do I get rid of it?  How attached am I?  Is it an heirloom? (no)  Does my daughter need it? (no, I don’t think so)   Whenever I decide to get rid of something, I try to imagine that the next person who is using it is so thankful for it, that it suits them perfectly, and then I feel better.

I go in spurts of letting go of things.  A good de-cluttering will last me for a while, then I know it’s time to do it all again.  We find ourselves using lots of plastic storage bins for our materials for the creative and artistic projects we have, and these are easy to store.  We try to pay attention to what we actually use and don’t use, so that we can get rid of the stuff that our present lifestyle doesn’t include.  It’s a lot of work, and I’m sure people that don’t have much stuff, are wondering why anyone would want to do this much work?

Well, it’s fun.  It’s fun finding things that make life easier and more meaningful, it’s fun giving things away for others.  We are always giving things to the tiny thrift store in Trail’s End, and know that everything there goes to people who really need it.  It’s fun to clear away a space that can then be just empty, or find a new use.  It’s fun to add a new basket to the collection, that I can then store another knitting project in.  It’s fun to paint a dresser any old way I feel like it, and have it brighten up a corner of the room.  It’s fun to find a hat that fits a certain mood, and get rid of it a year later because I’m not experiencing that mood anymore.  Yes, it is also a job, and it’s a constant job, but I can be darn good at it, and I really like it.  I think I could probably be better at the getting rid of things end, but I’m working on it, with my partner’s support and encouragement.

I have thought about when I die, that I don’t want my partner to have so much stuff of mine to have to deal with, so I should probably step up the “getting rid of stuff” every year that I’m still around.  I have a friend who has gotten rid of almost everything so that her family will not have to deal with it when she dies, yet that almost seems like she’s dying before she’s dead.  But perhaps she is happiest with nothing around her except her own art.  Then there are my parents, who say to just get an auctioneer when they die, and that’s the way they want to get rid of their stuff that doesn’t have a particular home.   (That reminds me of the song, “Save My Mother’s Picture From the Sale”, a song that made my sister and me cry every time Dad sang it, about a youngster whose family belongings were all sold off after the death of the parents.  Oooh, I don’t know about that option…)  I guess I want to be somewhere in between those two situations, having enough of my collections and mementos around me that I can enjoy them, but not having so many that it is an unbearable task for my partner if I die before her.  (Right now she’s probably saying, “Well, you better get to work, Susan!”)  At any rate, it’s become part of my retirement as it was part of my life before, but now I have more leisurely time for it.  ….and now that I think about it, I guess I’ll get rid of that chair.

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