With the recent rise of minimalism my soul has felt a longing to be free of its consumerist tethers. However, there’s one small problem…
I. Love. My. Stuff.
I always have, even as a kid. Growing up I started collection after collection, and those habits stuck with me.
There was my souvenir bell collection — I still have a couple of those here and there. There were the toys — my American Girl dolls, my barbies, my mom’s barbies and the handmade clothes her grandmother sewed for them in the ’60s. The scrapbooking supplies that took up an entire section of my closet… for which I made 90% of a high school scrapbook and a few other pages in other albums. And always, there were books. Stacks, on stacks, on stacks.
Over the years I’ve been forced to rethink my habits — but it’s been an agonizingly slow process.
I wanted for very little as a child and also had what was, in square footage per person, the largest room in our house. I was, in a word, blessed. Then my mom passed away suddenly just a couple of months after I turned 21. Suddenly not only could I not let go of the things I already had but I had to acquire more. My willpower — already pretty weak to begin with — was gone. My spending habits grew by leaps and bounds but my storage capacity was dwindling.
Fast forward a couple of years: My dad got married again, they moved into a new house. I put all of my childhood belongings into a storage unit and they sat there for years. I went from apartment to apartment and had to continue reducing my possessions… although in my case, it was more that I had to become more creative about storing my stuff. Meanwhile I was throwing bad money after good to keep my storage unit. Eventually, the rent became too much to deal with and I couldn’t remember half of what was in the unit. I rented a U-Haul, drove the 500 miles home, and donated most of what I’d paid a small fortune to keep.
More recently — last summer, to be precise — I went on the longest vacation I’ve taken since I started supporting myself (almost two weeks) and took very, very little with me. And I was fine. Not only did I not miss my stuff, I wasn’t eager to get home and reunite with my creature comforts.
So why, then, do I still have so much of it?
Lately I’ve been trying to confront the reasons behind my ‘hoarding,’ as it’s been jokingly referred to over the years. It was a term I never appreciated. I don’t like being mocked, and, true hoarding is a serious and heartbreaking disorder — of which I hope to never gain a firsthand knowledge.
Still, the emotional ties I have to even the smallest things, like heart-shaped paper clips or notes my mom wrote, are hard to break. And it’s been causing no small amount of stress in my life.
My apartment is almost always a mess. I live in fear of friends stopping by — I never invite anyone over — and my days off are spent cleaning and organizing.
Every few months I get a burst of what can best be described as a ‘GTFO’ mood towards my stuff, and make some progress. Somehow it always feels like I’ve only scratched the surface. Like I shook a couple of grains of sand loose from the castle, but the structure is still very much intact.
I recently took a straw poll of who in my life still has any of a short list of items: high school yearbooks, childhood toys, and old CD mixes. Almost everyone said yes to all — either at their home, or their parents’. It actually wasn’t the response I’d been expecting, and it wasn’t helpful to hear that, yes, these are things that a large number of people in my life have retained.
Part of the problem is, my situation is unique. Not many people don’t have a childhood home to keep things at, and most of my friends and acquaintances haven’t lost a parent. In short, it’s hard for me to find people who can relate and offer advice that feels realistic. And the thing is, it’s really for me to work through. No one can do this for me.
The emotional guilt I have when I get rid of something of my mother’s is staggering. Revisionist history is a slippery slope, and while I want to remember her as this perfect, infallible being, that’s not who she was. Yes, she’d want me to be happy – but there’s a part of me that can’t help but think that she’d be disappointed that I haven’t made more of an effort to keep her memory alive.
That kind of thinking is bullsh*t, I know, but it’s a hard voice to silence. Even louder is the voice that shouts, “What if?” at me. I could get rid of this book… but what if I want to re-read it at a future date? I could donate my craft paint… but won’t I just need to buy more in the future? I could donate this toy… but what if I change my mind about having kids, and want to pass it on?
Like most things in life, the ‘what ifs’ will kill you.
I’ve spent my whole weekend trying to use up craft supplies, sort through old pictures, and tidy up this trainwreck I call a life (I’m only being slightly dramatic). Over the past few weeks I’ve started making some progress — it’s actually one of the ways I’ve seen my anti-depression, anti-anxiety medication start to work. I went through my beloved Nora Roberts bookcase and pulled a couple dozen titles down to donate. I’ve accepted that there are some projects I just can’t and/or won’t finish, and thrown out what I couldn’t recycle.
This story doesn’t have a miraculous, I-had-a-fire-sale-for-my-life ending. I’m just one person who is trying to accept a few realities: Moving on from something does not equal admitting defeat; No one else should be able to tell you what you can and cannot keep (within the limits of the law); You can love something without needing to possess every part of it. In fact, it’s healthier if you don’t.
I’m not there yet, but I’m getting closer every day. Getting into my newfound love for budgeting will be a topic for a whole other post, but it’s helped me realize that it’s possible to go to Target and just buy groceries. I’ve skipped trips to craft stores even when I knew that there were great coupons on sales, because I didn’t actually need anything. It’s a start, and it gives me some hope for the future — a well-crafted future.