Sunday, November 8, 2009

Having "The Talk" With My Stuff

It is one of life's great ironies that as soon as you can't do something, you want to do that thing all the more. And I'm afraid that I fall victim to wanting what I can't have all the time. Except in my case it's practically debilitating. As soon as an option is off the table, I am dead set on it and my brain does mental cartwheels and triple sow-cows until I can get this unattainable thing in my humongous, amazon hands. It's a sickness really and most recently it happened while I had swine flu.

I had just finished reading Peter Walsh's book "It's All Too Much - So Get It Together" about how getting rid of stuff leads to a better life, and then BAM! Swine flu drained my energy and my desire to even stay upright, let alone comb my attic and flush out my basement. While the book is geared toward the juvenile reader (and let's be honest - if I'm anything, I'm immature) and despite the continuous references to cleaning out your locker and returning your friend's Seventeen Magazine collection, the theories in this book were completely applicable to me as a home owner and mom. But suddenly because of my case of oinking fever, I couldn't implement these uncluttering truths and it was killing me. Not because I am unhinged at messiness (quite the opposite unfortunately), but because I was suddenly physically incapable of doing it. In my blurred vision and 102 degree fevers, I should have envisioned steaming cups of tea and warm comforters, not mislabeled boxes under my bed and mysteriously full garbage bags in my crawl-space.

See how complicated I am?

I've recovered from oinking and I'm trying to focus my pent up organizational energy with a vengeance.

But there's a problem: I've learned that I assign feelings to inanimate objects. These aren't just objects with emotions, they are much more than that. They are wedding gifts, mementos from the past, nay - they are members of the family. The guilt is pretty thick, like I'm letting them down, if I even think of clearing things out. Because my relationship with my stuff is like my relationship with people. And since no one is perfect and every relationship can be improved upon, I tend to give my stuff more lee-way that it deserves. So, it shouldn't really matter what the differences are between me and my unused fondue pot; everything can be resolved with some quality time and mutual respect. If I just focus less on my needs and hone in on the needs of my still-in-the-box kettle corn turner, somehow we can make it work.

But the personification of my stuff doesn't stop there. Whenever I take pictures of things to list on Craiglist, part of me feels like I'm taking photos at a funeral and in my head I hear "We have gathered here today to reflect on our dear friend, the futon." I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to add the line "to a good home" when writing the selling descriptions. Once while a Craigslist patron was looking at our old kitchen table, she expressed that she wasn't interested, and I got offended. All of the sudden I was thinking--with an Italian accent and punctuating my imaginary thoughts with double hand gestures--"What? You think you're better than this table? You think that this table that fed my children isn't good enough for you? Move along, this table doesn't even want to go home with the likes of yous." That's probably when I knew I had a problem.

Peter Walsh to the rescue! He says that we need to change the relationship with our stuff in order to successfully de-clutter not only our homes but our lives, and I knew as soon as I read those words, he was talking directly to me. So I've been having the talk with my stuff and there are some key lines I've been using to move things along. "It's not you, it's me" to lessen the blow. "You're going to a better place" to seal the fate. "You'll be happier where you will see the light of day" to illuminate the bright side. Last but not least, "We'll always have Maui." And I have to say, as strange as it is to admit publicly that I'm having to verbally define my relationships with my stuff in the same way that one would speak to a romantic interest, I am loving the feeling of closure and release.

I know I have a long road ahead (I'm tormented with my inability to provide solace to my 6th grade "Save the Whales" t-shirt), but I'm fairly proud of the two huge garbage bags full of stuff that is going to Goodwill this week and the stack of boxes that I've sentenced to recycling. It's a good start for me.

And as I escorted those garbage bags of stuff out to the back of my car, I could feel my house breathe a sigh of relief that I was finally lightening her heavy burden.

"You're welcome house," I said.

"Just call me Bernice." She replied.

10/20/06 - Computer Desk... and friend.
02/17/09 - Kitchen Table, looking especially dressed up.
10/20/06 - RIP Futon, may you continue to help people sit or sleep, which ever they prefer.


  1. oh treevis, i think i need to read that book. i have many many items that require a good old fashioned dtr, but i haven't the heart.
    you really summed things up with the futon. and look how comfy that toilet paper roll looks. with not one, but TWO remotes to choose from. if you can let go of such a good friend, maybe I can too . . .

  2. i must admit i have the exact opposite problem--nothing holds sentimental value to me--NOTHING! not my wedding photos (who needs em'), or my husband's mission journal, not even my kids' BABY CLOTHES! i sometimes think something is wrong with me! there must be a healthy middle ground and i really need to find it!

  3. We just sold our mattress on Craigslist. The very same bed in which we conceived all of our 4 children (oh wait, is that too much information?!) I used to be a huge packrat, but I have learned the joy of decluttering.

  4. Sometimes if I know my husband will protest about giving something away, I sneak it in a garbage bag and hide it away so he doesn't see it. Do you want me to come to your house?

  5. You guys are hilarious.

    NIta - the toilet paper was to catch my tears as we were parting with our futon.

    Lynette - I need to channel you more often. Seriously - you're a machine, my hat goes off to you my friend. If you don't keep anything and I keep everything, I think together we make the perfect human being. Something I've thought for a while, but only just now confirmed.

    Karena - I have no words. Your comment just verifies that I never know what you're going to say next, and I love you for it!

    Faves/Melanie - I would LOVE for someone else to come out and do this for me so that I won't have to do it myself! How much do you charge - top dollar I hope. But let's make it interesting and I'll ask you to come over in the middle of the night, with a black ski hat on (aka touque) and a crow bar. Just to keep the neighbors on their toes.

  6. Oh, T. You make me smile. I enjoy your Pieface Adventures more than you can ever know.

    LOVE YOU still!