Part 3 in a 5-part series on Living Simply
Decluttering and cleaning in the midst of holding on to items that my great-grandparents owned is extremely difficult.
March 1, 2021, the blossoms on the Bradford pear trees drew my attention.
Winter was turning to spring, and I was still living amidst crazy chaos.
Only two weeks earlier, ice and snow caused life as I know it to come to a screeching halt for a week. Freezing fog early that Sunday caused me to drive to town for a few groceries, but the 15-minute drive on a clear day took almost a half hour and revealed bare shelves that rivaled the COVID panic buying of almost a year before. Then Sunday afternoon, calls came in canceling Monday appointments. The freezing drizzle began shortly after and progressed to freezing rain that continued overnight. Monday morning found the gate on the back deck frozen shut.
Monday, the rain morphed into bouts of snow alternating with freezing drizzle. No mail — no trash collection — few vehicles passed our house, not just on Monday but all the way through Saturday.
Why am I sharing this with you? I don’t know. Maybe it is to share my perspective on how fast seasons change here in Tennessee. Maybe it’s because that change of season into spring brought on a desperate desire to perform a good deep spring cleaning. Maybe it’s because I am now (almost a year and a half after that snow event) still focused on decluttering and living simply.
I wrote about my enrollment in Spring Cleaning 501 almost two years ago, but I still find my garage unable to accept a vehicle. I am, however, happy to say that the vintage primary-colored nesting bowls have been sold and most of the slides have been donated to an arts and crafts recycling center.
Our 90-day camping trip in 2021 made it clear how little I need to live each day to its fullest. As I began to dig deeper into my home, I settled on several questions to ask each item. I wrote about those questions in Simplifying Your Possessions by Giving them a Destination.
I’m changing. I’m growing. And I’m concerned that all this clutter is creating stress and anxiety in my life. This past Christmas, I even realized that “decorating for the holidays” creates such chaos that the only thing I cared to put up was the Christmas tree. Halloween decorations never saw the light of day. Too little time — too many more important things to do.
But where did all this stuff come from?
That my friend is the million-dollar question with a million-point answer.
My mother passed away in 2013. As an only child, I inherited her childhood home and the contents therein.
It had been a running joke between my mother and myself that when she passed, I would have to go through the things in the house with a fine-tooth comb.
She wasn’t kidding.
As she lay in bed during one of her last weeks at home, our running joke became a stark reality. She insisted that I pull certain boxes out of her closet. As I pulled an item out of a box, she explained it. I was to write what she told me about each item. The items were put back into the box along with the paper inventory and stories, and the box was put back on the shelf.
Then she wanted me to know the location of her important paperwork, so we went through the top of the desk and the top drawer of the desk.
“What’s in the bottom drawer?” I asked.
I pulled out the drawer and began to withdraw items. She had cards she had received still in their envelopes — opened but still in their addressed envelopes. It was one of those cards that slapped me in the face and said, “This is why you will be going through EVERYTHING very carefully.”
“Mom? There’s a five dollar bill in this Valentine.”
“Yes, yes. Put it back and let’s move on.”
Little did I realize how much “stuff” Mom had collected over the years. Better yet, I should say, little did I realize how much “stuff” Mom had never gotten rid of in her more than 80 years on this planet.
When I was a kid, we lived in what would now be called a two-bedroom bungalow with a walk-up attic and a full basement. I never realized how packed that little house was until Gram moved into a senior living facility and Mom and Dad moved to Gram’s house — Mom’s childhood home.
Moving Gram from a three-bedroom, two-story house with a walk-up attic and an exposed basement into a senior apartment presented its challenges. Gram wanted more stuff in her tiny space than it could hold.
Mom had a brainstorm. Since Gram had sold the house to Mom and Dad, Gram could just leave the stuff in the house that she couldn’t fit in the apartment. Then, if and when Gram might want an item, Mom could pull it out and bring it to her.
I realized, in 2013, that Mom had never really purged any of Gram’s items after Gram passed away in the mid-1980s. Mom had just pushed most of the stuff to the back of the closet or cupboard and put her stuff in front.
My husband liked to call her a hoarder, but I prefer to identify her as a child of the depression and the 1950s through 1970s recessions. I wrote about her struggles during those times in “Why Did I Save That?”
As the buds became visible on the trees again here in southern Middle Tennessee, I struggled again with the issue of Spring Cleaning and getting rid of the volumes of stuff I possess. I can’t say stuff I own because to me that infers that I know what I have and that I actually want it.
As I sit here today and write these words, I realize that for the last nine years, I have hoped that the clutter would deal with itself. In other words, I hoped the clutter would organize itself or just go away on its own without any intervention from me.
How wrong I have been!
Learning to declutter and simplify your life does not come with a magic pill or a wish on a star. Learning to declutter and simplify your life requires mindfully coming to terms with everything life throws at you. It requires looking at the why of something.
- Why did I leave my coffee cup on the table in front of the couch?
- Why did I just bring the clean clothes basket into my bedroom and set it on the floor?
- Why did I just buy another spatula when I already have three in the drawer? Should I throw the cracked one away?
I know that learning to declutter and live simply takes a great deal of work initially. I know that my clutter didn’t manifest itself overnight, and because of that, I can’t expect to get through the clutter in one day, or even a month. I must work over the next several months, or even years, to get through everything.
Writing down my plan and sharing it with you is for both of us. I find myself more accountable when I share my commitment to declutter and simplify.
Although I came home from the 90-day camping trip with a focus on decluttering and simplifying, I accomplished little more than a plan by the new year. I shuffled from room to room. Overwhelmed, I did a little here and a little there.
I didn’t really begin the heavy work until late April. The first idea called for decluttering the surfaces, including the floors, without stuffing items into boxes for a later date. This took almost 2 months.
I chunked the tasks. I gave myself a time limit, so I didn’t become overwhelmed. Work on one surface for an hour. If I completed that surface within the hour, I began a second surface. After the first few days, I added a second-time chunk. Then, the time chunks grew in length if I felt like I was handling the job.
A month has passed since I completed the task of decluttering the surfaces. Most of the areas are still completely clear. Some of the areas have boxes waiting to be delivered to donation spaces, but when I have enough to warrant a trip, those will disappear.
My life sister who lives a 10-hour drive away urged me to take before and after pictures. These pictures have helped me realize just how far I have progressed. Realizing how disastrous everything made me cringe.
I’m far from finished. I have closets and drawers and cabinets to declutter and sort through. I have a garage that still will not hold a vehicle. I have a storage shed (lovingly named The Barn) that is full, as well as a wood and craft shop that is in want of decluttering and cleaning.
I am purging what I don’t want or haven’t been looking for. The trashcan accepts the unusable, unsellable, and unrecyclable. If I want to put in the effort to sell or repurpose something – great. If not, things are being donated or sold. The things I have been looking for, use, or want to save because of sentimentality NEED a place. I’m refusing to just put stuff in a box and deal with it later.
Anyone for a garage sale? Or if you are a collector of things or looking for a gift for someone, hop into my Etsy store Muletown Vintage and Vintage Creations every week to see what’s new. I’m working to create items by repurposing the old into something new.
What about you?
How do you deal with all the clutter that has come to you through inheritance? What did you do with your parents’ yearbooks? Please take a moment to share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below.
Until next time . . .
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