Things I Think About Thursday: It’s just stuff, it’s not love

I have a lot of stuff. I may not be about to be contacted by the producers of ‘Hoarders’, but there’s stuff, and there’s a lot of it, and it’s mine. Aged 19 I was told by my flatmates that I was taking the biggest room because I had the most stuff. My Mum would subtly offer to lend me books with titles like ‘Freedom from Clutter‘. It didn’t stick.

When my marriage ended, I went from a (full) two bedroom house to one bedroom in a small flat about 1/3 of the size the house had been. It took two car journeys just to move the stuff I had left BEHIND when I left. When I first left my husband permanently, I moved in with some (amazing) friends (to whom I am grateful to this day), in a small single room. At the start I had just a suitcase. 3 months later it took a car to move everything I had to the new flat.

Fast forward 3 years and I have, finally, had enough. The thing about too much stuff (whatever too much is for you, and it’s different for everyone), is that it weighs on you. I don’t just mean when you have to carry it up a hill or a flight of 40-odd steps to move. In terms of energy flow, it slows you- it makes you feel weighed down, which is very different from grounded.

Then  there’s the fact that, surprisingly for someone who has always been a pack rat, one of my dreams is to live in a tiny house. Specifically, my wild dream is to build a Tumbleweed Harbinger (the one bedroom model), with solar panels, and live small and mortgage free. If I did that right now I could probably live in a fort made of plastic tubs o’stuff while they built it.

Add to the mix that I want to move cities (which involves transporting everything I own, at once, on a 10 hour trip, and you have the clincher.  A big downsize is in order.

The thing that prevented me in the past from getting rid of, well, anything, was sentiment. If it was a gift from someone (especially from a close family member, or a dead family member) I had to keep it. If it was linked to a special memory, I had to keep it. When I moved to New Zealand, one of the hardest things was having to get rid of some of my books- in fact I promised myself I would never get rid of books ever again. They’re one of my big memory-triggers. I can tell you when I got any given volume on my shelves, who gave it to me, or where I bought it. I didn’t think I could ever bear to use a Kindle.

Well, plus ca change. I started small- with clothes I didn’t wear, taking them to the charity shops or selling them to friends (or, soon, on Trade Me). And as I began to release things, I started to feel lighter. The big moment for me was when I was looking at some bits and pieces I had kept automatically because they were from, in particular, my Mum and Dad. I suddenly asked myself the most useful question I ever have about stuff:

“Do you think that the love they have for you will go away just because this thing does?”

Well, of course, the answer is no. It was freeing- I can divest myself of things that no longer serve me, secure in the knowledge that it doesn’t change the happy memory, or the connection I have with another person if it’s still present and felt by both of us. It’s one of the most important things I’ve learned to do while decluttering- be conscious. Don’t default to ‘I have to keep that’. Do you really? Why do you? Is it because you genuinely love it and it makes you happy just looking at it, or is it from a feeling of guilt or worry about what would happen if you no longer had it?

Of course, there are some things I would never get rid of, things that still have a lot of meaning to me, things that are unique and special. Those things have a special, joyful energy of their own and it gives me joy to have them. Things like a book with an inscription from my Grandfather to my Grandma, given to her while they were engaged. A patchwork bedspread from my Grandparents’ house. A signed first edition of my favourite book.

And getting rid of something doesn’t mean you have to sell it or donate it. If it’s a family thing, there might be a sibling or cousin of yours who would love to have it, to keep it in the family (or if you can’t stand it, and you know nobody else can either, you can always give it to your least favourite family member and let them deal with having it in the house…not that I’m endorsing that idea.)- and spread the love.

Which brings me to my next point- by releasing things from your possession, you’re freeing them to go where they will be of service. They’re going to, say, the family member who will love and treasure it. Or to a new person who needs it when you no longer do. It’s this thought that has helped me, for the first time in 5 years, to start getting a pile of books ready to go. They’re books I don’t read, that I’m not attached to. Releasing them gives them a chance to go to a new owner who will love them, and gain enjoyment from them. Probably not even their last owner. It’s the same with clothes. When I started decluttering I had a lot of clothes which, while I thought they were lovely, I didn’t wear. Beautiful things deserve better than to hang around unused and hidden away. By taking them out of my wardrobe and passing them on to excited new owners, I’m giving them the chance to be used and loved as they deserve. Shown off. Complimented. Twirled in. To be put on by someone who feels like a million dollars in them.

It’s this same motivation that will see me, on Saturday 21st June, heading with a couple of suitcases full of yarn and craft books to St Anne’s Hall, Emmett Street, Newtown, for the Social Wool Fair. I looked at my yarn stash- all four huge plastic tubs of it- and realised it was daunting. There was way, way more than I could realistically knit up any time soon. It brought me down. I felt I didn’t have any freedom to choose projects that wouldn’t be made from stash yarn. And I had a lot of lovely yarns that I just wasn’t going to do anything with. Like the books, and the clothes, by destashing these and taking them to the wool fair, I can send all these pretties to new and loving knitters, who will get pleasure from them (and look, if they sit in THEIR stash that’s OK too. The point is that the skeins will make them smile!). And I, hopefully, get some extra savings to bring my succulent wild dreams closer to reality.

If you’re in Wellington on the 21st June, why not head over to Newtown between 10 and 4, and come say hi? I’ll be the one in the retro-pin-up dress with the half-table (and the many skeins and balls of lovely yarn for good prices), twitching slightly as I try to resist the temptation to buy yarn from other traders. I managed it at Fabric-a-brac…

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