"How's the move going?" I asked. "We saw the U-Haul out front."
"We're exhausted," the Seller answered. "I can't believe how much stuff we've collected
through the years. I swear the boxes in my attic are procreating!"
I believe him. Mine too, and I don't even have an attic.
The truth is, the more space we have, the more willing we are to fill it. Consequently, closets, attics, basements, garages, and storage rooms become GIANT repositories for all things discarded under the assumption that "our kids may want it one day." (They won't.)
We've got two good-sized storage rooms at our house and both are packed to the gills with old lighting fixtures, slightly-used wax candles, rubber welcome mats, a menagerie of lightbulbs, holiday decorations, outdated camping gear (we haven't camped in 20 years), loose photos that never made it into albums, high school yearbooks, Cliff's old report cards from boarding school, outdoor pillows, dozens of wine glasses, folding tables and chairs, dormant golf clubs, and wooden corbels from the flea market. (Yes, I have a serious flea market habit.)
Could we rent dishes and glasses for those few occasions when our own stock won't suffice? (Yes, we could.)
Do we need 20 menorahs when one will suffice? (No, we do not.)
Could we easily get rid of at least 15 cans of paint, only keeping those that actually match the paint on our walls? (Yes, we could.)
With the understanding that none of the things we collect are going with us once we finally leave this earth, does it make sense to begin to pare down some of the unnecessary items that fill our shelves and take up space, both physically and metaphorically? (Absolutely.)
Unfortunately, most of us will wait until a move forces our hand before we begin to curate our belongings, and choosing just those things that we absolutely need (passports), or hold extremely dear (our kid's art projects.) Faced with the reality of downsizing, only then will we begin to tackle this truly, behemoth job. (I feel your pain.) Funnily enough, we spend our 30s, 40s, & 50s collecting more than we need, and then we spend the next three decades trying to unload it! ("No Mother, I don't want your China.")
Last year, when Covid forced us all indoors, and I desperately needed a sense of control, I went through every closet and drawer in our house, organizing and discarding as I went. Extra pens, hangers, old make-up and stray socks all found their way to the trash bins. I gave away clothes I no longer wore (or fit), and donated old bath mats and towels to nearby pet stores. I repurposed furniture, got rid of outdated prescriptions, and tried to make room on my shelves for empty space. If it didn't bring "joy," I said "thank you and good-bye," a la Marie Kondo, the Japanese consultant who preaches minimalism and became famous for organizing other people's homes. I gotta admit, it felt great seeing everything in its proper place.
However, over the course of the year, boxes arrived, anti-aging creams showed up in my mail (they don't work), and Cliff ordered books and more books! Downstairs, Zee received her own share of cardboard filled with protein drinks, paper towels, and toilet paper. (I can't imagine the number of trees Amazon is responsible for cutting down.)
In other words, empty shelves didn't stay empty for long; they were simply an invitation to add more "stuff." (My client was was right, those cheeky boxes are obviously having sex.)
Now that it's spring, and your kids are back living in their own apartments and dorms, it's time to dejunk once more. As you pull off the patio-furniture covers and store them for the summer, take a look in that garage and see what's no longer necessary and then . . . let it go. (Hint, if you're using your treadmill for a clothes line, time to sell it on eBay.) If your kids are away at college, the trampoline can go to another home. If your pool table has become a dumping ground, say bye-bye. Follow up with your attic, basements and closets, and purge to your heart's content!
If you tackle this chore on an annual basis, you'll not only be giving the things you no longer use to others who can now use and enjoy them, you'll thank yourself come time to actually sell your home and move on. (If YOU don't do it, your kids will have to, AND they won't thank you.)
Oh, and if you aren't up to the task, let me refer you to an organizer or hauler that is. Yes, there are people who actually make a living getting rid of the "stuff" you no longer need (even if they're not famous), AND they get great satisfaction doing so. Hello!
It's that, or abstinence. Take your pick.
How can we help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.