My mother used to always laugh when she said, “it’s going to take you forever to go through this house when I go.” With a hint of denial that the day could ever come, I would ask her to not talk like that.
But one day, the day did come. As I spent the next year working to be as intentional as possible with every scrap of paper, every dried flower arrangement, and every dish, I began to learn a lot about myself.
After 13 months of family visits, donations, botched auction attempts, gifting, shipping, and sharing, I still had a houseful of goods. You see, my mother liked things country-styled. Having been raised poor in rural Appalachia, it was etched into her nature to hold onto everything for as long as possible because you never know when you will have nothing. As a result, as much as I tried to buck the trend, it was kind of also etched into mine.
As I sifted, sorted, and shipped, I realized I was also grappling with the emotions of what all of the “stuff” really meant. Week after week, I would go into the house where she smoked thousands of cigarettes and find myself getting angry at the tar coated dust. I was angry for all of the years that made it so natural for me to smoke too. I was frustrated that I could not seem to dig out, no matter how hard I tried.
Then I realized the process was so much more than just losing my mother. It was also about learning to find and rediscover myself. I decided that spending an hour or two every weekend going through drawers of rubber bands and stamps was not going to get me anywhere and that it would take years of reliving the moments I spent with her with those things, some in that house, and some in the houses I grew up in.
With a year under my belt, I decided it was time to think more broadly and treat the process as a healing process rather than a burden. I almost broke the bank to hire movers, get four storage units, erase the tar and nicotine in the house by priming, painting, removing the carpet, and replace the systems.
I began to see the “stuff” as something that I was digging out of to find myself. I began to see the process as something to grow from, rather than an emotional vortex and time suck. So, I began donating as much as I could. My wife and I began selling off some of her things through local Facebook yard sale sites. We were not really making any money, but it gave us joy to see people find joy in her things.
As I write this, I still have three storage bins to get through, a porch full of mixed piles, systems to replace, and a house to get rented. But, this process is becoming very zen like to me. In this process, we are learning to be more intentional. I am finding myself looking around the house at things I don’t need. We are beginning to let go of some of the “stuff” that we are just holding onto for that “someday when we might need it” that we hope never comes.
More on this journey of conscious decluttering as it unfolds.