A Series of Surprising Answers
“It was a waste of time to tell Martha that you can’t take it with you. She had long since made up her mind that, if that were the case, no sensible person would even dream of going.”
Frank B. Gilbreth & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey in Belles on their Toes
After moving to Scottsdale one spring, my husband and I decided that he would go back to school in August. This life-change led me to thinking about our next move. What if we didn’t renew our lease and moved again the following spring, in the middle of a busy semester for my husband? I realized that the bulk of packing and unpacking would be my responsibility and, dreading the thought of doing it all at once, decided that we needed less. Less stress, less packing, less to take care of and maintain, less to find. I wanted to get rid of things now, with no time restraints, so that if we moved it would be relatively painless. As a result, I decided to go through each of my belongings individually, asking myself one question: “Why on earth do I own this?”
The results surprised me, and the fact that I was surprised was additionally surprising. Never mind.
Of course, the answer was sometimes “Because I use it every day.” or “Because I smile whenever I notice it.” But, I also discovered many new things.
First, I realized that I don’t like rugs, except where I consider them to be necessary (by the kitchen sink, at outdoor entrances, or under a piece of furniture that scratches the floor). All my other rugs were superfluous and I couldn’t come up with a reason why I had them, they were just another thing to clean and had to be moved out of the way when I mopped. I didn’t need them to keep feet warm (I live in the Valley of the Sun, people!), they were not beautiful to me, etc. Out went half a dozen rugs, including one I made with my own two hands!
Then I was surprised by the number of items I owned because someone had given them to me and told me that I had to keep them. This is fundamentally hypocritical, since, in giving the item to me, the giver himself was not keeping it. I was thrilled to be able to rid myself of these items. I had no personal attachment to them (the items, not the givers). In fact, I believe a couple of these “gifts” fostered resentment because every time I came across them (usually when moving), I thought, “I HAVE to keep this because so and so said I did. Here goes another packing, unpacking, and finding somewhere new to hide it!”
Another realization was that I kept some things out of habit. “I have that book because I’ve always had it.” This led me to analyze if the items held any actual value for me. Many didn’t. Of course, I wish I’d done this sooner because my kids were old enough to want some of my childhood keepsakes that I would have been happy to get rid of!
After saying to myself five times that I had kept something as a memento of a living history museum I worked at, I realized that I could shed four of the items. I kept one, a handcrafted set of candlesticks from the village blacksmith that I have always loved. (I love the candlesticks, not the blacksmith, that is. Great guy, of course, just not the object of my devotion.)
I threw out dozens of subpar photos, the ones that didn’t make the album. Who cares if these are pictures from my wedding? I have an album full of better ones and no need for these. I mean, did I really want to keep this picture of me with an idiotic expression on my face as a back-up? You know, just in case there was a fire and I dug the box of rejects out from the back of the closet instead of grabbing the album off the bookshelf?
Next time you unearth something in the back of your closet do not ask yourself, “Why should I get rid of this?”. Instead, ask, “Why should I keep this?”
The answer may surprise you!
Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash