The limbo box

On January 1, 2012, I started the official process of moving into my mom and stepdad’s house to live with them while I “got back on my feet.”  It took me months to move out of my then-husband’s apartment, one box at a time, by myself, to my car, and one car load at a time to my mom’s.

I am tired of carrying boxes.

I have a lot of stuff that I don’t use, but that society insists I need.  This post is about some of those things that other people think I need.

I have been going through boxes and boxes that I brought from my previous apartment, and re-packing the things I think I will truly use, and leaving behind a really impressive “yard sale” pile.  If it doesn’t sell, I’m taking it all to Goodwill, because I am tired of looking at it.

My mother was observing the process when I found a small bulletin board and commented, “How many of these do I really need?” I have four. I mused on the subject, and decided to only take one small bulletin board with me to the new flat.  Then I announced I didn’t need it, and I would put all four into the yard sale pile.  My mother immediately defended the bulletin board. “You’re going to want that!” she insisted, “You can put it next to where you pay your bills!”

I had already decided that all bill-paying supplies and office supplies would be kept in a one-drawer end table next to my couch.

I put the bulletin board in a box.  She looked on disapprovingly.

When I found my iron, I announced that, since I hadn’t used it in years, I wasn’t going to take the iron or my ironing board either.  If she disapproved of my bulletin board discard, she was at arms about the iron.  “You need that! You are going to need that! When you don’t have one and you have to go spend $20 on a new iron you are going to wish you had kept that! Listen to your mother, I know best.” (She actually said that).

I continued to insist that I wasn’t going to use it, but she was very determined I should keep it.  I suggested a compromise: I would keep the things I thought I didn’t need and she thought I did in a box at her house, and if I did wind up needing them, I could come get them.  She agreed.  Bulletin board, iron, ironing board – all into “stuff limbo.”

 

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Guilt and sentimental attachment

One of the hardest things about getting rid of stuff I don’t use or need is that a lot of times, that stuff I don’t use or need was a gift from someone I care about and I don’t want to insult anyone by getting rid of things they gave me.

I’ve been carrying around a gorgeous glass chess set that my brother got me for Christmas when I was 12 for twelve years and I haven’t played a game of chess in probably five.  I just carry it around with me and stick it in a corner.

That’s just one example.

I have an old laptop computer my parents bought me when I went to college in 2006. I have every flower my boyfriend has given me, dried and in a vase and gathering dust because how on earth do you dust such a fragile item? I have ornaments and collectibles and stuffed animals and all manner of stuff and things that just get moved and organized from box to box, dwelling to dwelling.

But no more, I say!

I am taking an honest and frank look at the things I have.  And it’s hard, because when I start going through my Rubik’s Cube collection, my sister shrieks, “You can’t get rid of that one, I got that for you!” When I mention getting rid of things, my boyfriend comments, “None of my gifts, right?” When I purge my closet, my mother asks “Are you getting rid of anything I bought for you?”

I know I am not going to be happy in my new place if I have to take stuff just for the sake of having stuff.  What am I going to do with it? I have 500 square feet to work with, and that doesn’t leave a lot of space for knick-knacks and decorative items.  A few, yes.  All, no way.  I cannot fit those things into my new place.  My priorities have changed.  I want to live more simply, and I want to live for myself.  I feel like I have the burden of caring for other people’s gifts — things that I didn’t need in the first place and do not need to be happy — for the sake of the gift-givers’ happiness.  What’s up with that?

Side note: I am allowing myself one box of sentimental “stuff” that I am willing to store in my new place. One box.  If it’s too full, I will have to make some cutbacks.  In the box so far is a stuffed animal I have had since I was a child, a box of souvenirs from my dad’s travels to other countries, a baby blanket from when I was born, and some other things that I can’t remember and so probably don’t matter.

The purge continues!

The bookshelf challenge

I find that setting a goal before I even delve into the project is the best thing for me to do.

I knew that I had four (and a few extra here and there) boxes of books in the basement.  I have always been a bookworm, but several things led to my willingness to purge books:

1. I got a Kindle for Christmas.  Having books in a digital format means I can carry a whole library with me without the physical burden of carrying books to a second-floor walk-up and taking up valuable space in my 500-square foot flat.

2. There exists a rather magical place called a library, where I can get my fix for the feel and smell of paper books, and then just return it when I’m done.

3. I haven’t even read half of the books I own.  I bought many of them because Border’s went out of business and things were on sale and I just couldn’t stop. This ends now.

So I opened up all my boxes, removed all of my books, and loosely organized them in giant piles on the coffee table.  Then I cleared off a small two-shelf bookcase and deemed that my goal.  I would only move as many books as I could fit onto that one bookshelf.  And that’s what I did.  My Harry Potter series and Dark Tower saga took up one of the shelves completely, leaving me with one shelf for the rest, including cookbooks.  I managed! I went from 116 books to 34.

I let my mom and sister go through the books I was getting rid of and select anything they fancied to keep for themselves.  My best friend will get to go through next, as she shares my love for books and all of hers were destroyed due to damage to the porch where she was storing them.  I’m happy to let them go to a good home!

Cleaning out the closet

I started my journey to less with my closet. And dresser. And chest of “off season” clothes.  I have too many articles of clothing.  Pants and tops that don’t fit — and haven’t in years, pants too long that I meant to hem, clothes I bought so I could get over $25 to use a coupon in a store, clothes my mom suggested and that I went along with because, according to her, they looked good, but that weren’t my style in the first place and I have subsequently only worn each of them once.

I enlisted my sister to help and we went through all of my (clean) clothes.  I didn’t count the dirty hamper, I figured I actually wore the stuff in there so it was pretty safe.  My goal: To pare down my wardrobe to 50 articles of clothing.  Socks, underwear, and bras don’t count.

Started with: 11 tank tops, 15 short-sleeved tops, 9 long-sleeved tops, 24 tee shirts, 3 blazers, 1 suit, 10 pairs of dress slacks, 1 pair of khaki pants, 5 pair of jeans, 10 sweaters, 5 sweatshirts, 1 vest, 3 shawls, 4 dresses, 6 cardigan-ish coverups, 1 pair of leggings, 4 pairs of shorts, and 1 satin cape.

Ended with: 5 tank tops, 8 short-sleeved tops, 7 tee shirts, 2 blazers, 3 pairs of slacks, 3 pairs of jeans, 5 sweaters, 1 vest, 1 shawl, 3 dresses, 3 coverups, 1 pair of leggings, 2 pairs of shorts.

After doing laundry I will post the final count, but for now I have pared down my wardrobe from 114 articles to 44.  Mission accomplished.

The most surprising thing about my clothing purge was that it wasn’t even difficult.  I had been holding onto sweatshirts and tee shirts (I found a whole cache of them in storage in the basement that weren’t counted here – probably 15 more) from high school and college and graduate school, always intending to turn them into a memory quilt.  But I finally realized that if I hadn’t gotten to making that quilt over the past several years, I probably wouldn’t ever get around to it.  So I tossed the sweatshirts and tee shirts.  I don’t even really like sweatshirts!

The items I kept are items that I can layer for different looks and occasions, and that are simply designed – I only kept a few tops with patterns.  Part of the reason I had so many blouses and pairs of slacks is that my graduate degree is in educational administration and I had intended to end up in an office at a college or university, rather than the jeans-and-sneakers every day position I wound up in an office at a chemical manufacturing plant!

The ease of the clothing purge was inspirational, and I thought I could finally tackle my growing library of books taking up several boxes in my mom’s basement.