The Simplest Way is Giving Away
Today I said farewell to more stuff. I was wearing out my welcome at the thrift shops and charities, and dreaded the massive undertaking of a garage sale with the added unpleasantness of a weekend forecast calling for chilly rainy weather. But today the weather was nice and my husband said, “let’s just set it at the curb and I’ll bet that most of it will be gone by the end of the day.” He was right. In the space of five hours a ton of stuff was picked through and picked up with the minimum amount of effort on our part. The relief was worth more than the money we were likely to get by trying to have a sale.
I recently posted about getting down to the last few boxes, which was about old paperwork, files, and mementos. The past two or three days, however, was the time for me to decide what to do with old artwork that I didn’t really like or want, the stacks of landscape designs and other stuff from previous careers, and the extra bits of furniture, file cabinets, storage pieces, lamps, decorative items, tools, boxes of nails and screws, household cleaners, paint, brushes, and extra sets of glassware and display pieces from our previous home and our gallery.
Don’t get me wrong–I still really liked and even loved a lot of the stuff. But it wasn’t getting used, nor was it going to be used in our smaller home and quieter life. Instead it hung around the basement gathering dust and getting in the way. There were also many things I hadn’t really used in twenty years or longer. That meant I’d lived through changes of marital status, occupation, health, social life, and just plain aging, and had still carted this stuff around as if my future was going to be the same as my past.
It is not difficult to toss out things you no longer want. It’s a little more difficult to toss out things you think you ought to want and keep. It’s a lot more difficult to face the irrelevance of the things you’ve acquired.
Stuff becomes irrelevant when it no longer serves its purpose. I’ve almost always been self-employed and over the years have acquired (and got rid of) tons of stuff I needed to make my work easier, whatever it was at the time. When I was a landscape designer and contractor, I not only had all the tools and reference works for drawing up plans and blueprints, but the tools for planting, hauling, trimming, edging, building decks and arbors, and laying brick and stone paths. Later, as a gallery owner, I had spotlights, extension cords, bulbs, display cases, shelves, hanging tools, serving pieces for opening receptions, and huge amounts of heavy printing paper and paperwork for artist information and sales. As a cook and caterer I had multiples of bakeware, serving pieces, and storage containers, plus the appliances and sanitation equipment. And throughout all of this I’ve been an artist, with the attendant canvases and paints, but also boxes and boxes of the miscellaneous trivia I incorporated into assemblages (think scrapbooking but ‘way bulkier). Ninety-nine percent of all of this stuff is now irrelevant. While I got rid of much of it at the time of ending each business, I still hung onto far too much. It’s as if some part of me didn’t want to feel it had all been a waste of time and effort, of emotional and financial investment.
Today, as a writer, I only need my laptop in order to work. I’m still an artist and always will be, so the paints and canvases are still around, but I’ve reduced the trivia items to a single box for the purpose of finishing the final two assemblages in progress.
Once the process of letting go started, I found myself coasting on the momentum with every box and bag brought up and set out. Setting things out at the curb was a little unnerving at first. My husband got the large things out there right away, some old furniture and items we used in our gallery several years ago. People started coming up and taking things, smiling and chatting. And it started feeling great, giving things I liked to people who really liked them, too, and giving them new homes. Instead of feeling like I was giving away my babies, I felt like I was strengthening the relevance of my present life. Stuff that had lost its relevance in my basement regained relevance in new hands.
The weirdest part was when a scrap metal collector came by and just started scooping up everything that had metal in it and throwing it into his truck, whether it was a big old filing cabinet or small metal decorative items that I recalled fondly purchasing at one time. But I got past it when I thought about other things that had been tossed during the uncluttering process. Even things taken to thrift stores do not all make it onto the shelves, some of it just gets thrown away by the shopkeepers. At least this guy was was recycling for a living.
In the meantime neighbors came and got a big party bucket, another neighbor walking home from the bus stop got an air cleaner and a corkscrew, and another neighbor walking her dog got insulated coffee carafes. The theatre across the street picked up some things for stage props, too. It was more gratifying to share the love than it would have been to haggle for nickels and dimes on a cold rainy day. I gotta hand it to my husband, he really truly had the right idea!
I’ve just taken another look at the basement and it’s like a new world down there; you can see from one end to the other, a thousand square feet of clean airy basement. There are at least as many empty boxes as there are boxes full of stuff, and the boxes of stuff are mostly artwork and art supplies, which means they aren’t clutter. All the general household things which remain are directly relevant to this house and the way we live now, and are neatly organized and accessible on a few shelves near the stairs. There are some books left to sort through and donate to the library, which will happen tomorrow. There are five large plastic storage boxes in a far corner, mostly things from my son’s early childhood. We will go through those within the next week or so. And that’s it. I could actually roller-skate in my basement….
But that’s a post for a different day ;D