Yesterday, I helped a very good friend get to a project that she has long put off...cleaning out the "upstairs." The "upstairs" is a total of two bedrooms, a bath, and a room in her attic. Although I've offered to help her for years, and there have been a couple of times that she's gotten somewhat close to getting it organized without my intervention, the past few years have not been kind. I think she somehow knew that I loved her enough to tell her that things had to go...and until now...she wasn't ready to hear that yet.
That changed yesterday.
This friend is married, cares for a menagerie of animals including one that is incredibly sweet...but is offset by the truly nasty canine habit of being a crotch sniffer. The second dog...a surly terrier mix...ironically named "Buddy" has traditionally only respected me when I was holding a broom handle or there was a lot of fence between us. The third dog is part pit bull...and I'm perfectly fine viewing him through the fence and giving him plenty of space. She also owns several cats...and an incredibly annoying bird named Sylvester. I tell you this to state that in addition to caring for all of the above, she also has a daughter who is 20, a full time job, three part time jobs, and her mother lives in town.
Needless to say...her plate is full. Real full.
So is the "upstairs."
We dug in for about seven hours yesterday after just picking somewhere to start and moving forward. It was difficult for her because she really had excellent intentions of completing projects and saving money by buying ahead. The problem is...she doesn't really have time to do anything else at this point in her life. She has been treading water for years, and finally decided that she was ready for someone to throw her a floatation device. It came in the form of a super-sized box of black 55 gallon trash bags and a ruthless buddy who has no problem with the word "no."
As in...NO, you may not keep that incredibly gaudy broom thing you hang on the wall with the smiling scarecrow on it. NO, there is no need to save those VHS tapes when you don't even own anything that will play them. NO, you don't need to keep that half started dress/sweatshirt/tee shirt you were working on when your daughter was eleven. NO, the issues of "Cross-Stitchers Gone Wild" or whatever those magazines are from 1983-88 are not staying. No, no, no.
And to her credit, she didn't pout, whine, or even put up much of a fuss. She didn't try to drive a popcycle stick through my heart or anything...although I'm sure that she considered it when I boxed up all of her daughter's stuffed animals and some truly scary looking porcelain dolls.
We went through craft projects that would impress Martha Stewart in variety and scope. My friend has been an avid crafter for as long as I've known her...and that spans twenty years and counting. But as I looked at enough counted cross-stitch books to make me truly awed - and then put them in a box to be given away (and in the big black trash bags for others)...we came to the same conclusion. There aren't many people who cross-stitch anymore...and we don't have the time or the eyesight to launch a revival. Same with the smocking, plastic canvas, iron-on transfers and the like. She elected to keep her knitting and scrapbooking stuff...and has held on to her sewing machine and pleater (for smocking). Everything else went into the trash.
We then went through her daughter's art projects, elementary school papers, Christmas gift bag collection, clothes, and miscellaneous other items. Each of these had some significance to her, but she learned pretty quickly that if she wasn't willing to argue with me about it...it had to go.
It got me to thinking, though, as I plowed through boxes of her "stuff"...much of it recognizable to me from either seeing it in her home or seeing her child wearing it. And that is...we have to eventually decide whether we want to live free or not. We can keep every scrap of paper our child touched or we can pick some really special examples to enjoy. We can hang on to an item that has gone out of style and no longer fits us anymore just because it reminds us of some happy memory when we last wore it. We can continue to hold on to things...waiting for a magical time when we will have unlimited time to do all of the craft projects, read all of the books, organize all of the pictures, or inventory all of the items...or we can choose to let them go.
I was a supporting actress in the drama that was associated with cleaning out my grandmother's house in 2006. My grandmother - who remembered the Great Depression well - did not like to turn loose of items in case she might need them again someday. That control turned into a nightmare for my mother and aunt as they went through decades of "stuff" including every television set that the family had ever owned, toys from the 1940s, books from the 1960s, and some truly heinous decor aquired in the 1980s. I don't think that this is terribly uncommon in families...you have packrats and you have those who are thought to not care about such things at all. The packrats think that the shedders will just give things to Goodwill as soon as their back is turned. Not true. We shedders are just super-selective about what we will take.
I am a shedder in a family full of packrats. I hold on to the essence of something...and I love family furniture, pictures, and rememberances. But I can throw away the non-essential pretty readily. I cook with a green enamel pan and an iron skillet that my great grandparents owned, and an ice cream scoop and flatware that was my grandmother's. I have a few things that my mother has passed down as well...thankfully. I'm getting close to being ready to start passing down to my children in a few years. Trust me...I will.
I suppose that is because I learned a long time ago that God won't fill your hands with more when you have a closed fist around all that you already have. I suppose He thinks that if we are holding on to "stuff" that hard...that we don't really have a need for Him. I never wanted to give Him that impression. So, if I don't have a use for it or an emotional tie...it is not going to be in my possession.
Oh, we are not finished with my friend's project, and I have committed to helping her with Phase II in a week or so. I'm going to give her a little time to work on her own since her full-time job is as a teacher...and she is out for the summer. As I see it, there are at least four phases to Project Stuff Enema. I know that sounds tacky...but frankly, I can think of no more apt description.
Phase I filled fifteen 55 gallon garbage bags, a large box with stuffed animals, a bag of books she is sending to her mother, two bags of Beanie Babies, and two bags of cross-stitch paraphenalia that is going to a friend who is going to be "blessed" to such a degree that she'll never have to buy supplies again. EVER.
I believe that in this life, we should try to travel lighter than we do. I don't mean that we should shed items that are still useful...I mean, that would be wasteful. But do we really need two colanders? Must we hang on to something that has clearly seen better days even though we have already purchased its replacement? Can't we have a moratorium on how long we are required to hang on to a gift? I think we can enjoy something...and then move it on. Styles change, technology improves, and our space situation is different at various times in our lives. We should manage our "stuff" accordingly.
Maybe we would be more grateful for the things that are in our lives if we actually had control of the volume that we allow into our homes. If we told people at Christmas that we appreciate the thought...but we'd like to have time and fellowship with them instead of gifts. If we offered our time and our energy instead of another knick-knack for them to have to put in a yard sale five years from now. If we could just savor and remember that excellent feeling we get from meeting someone's need out of our abundance.
My friend is on a roll now. She deserves a quiet uncluttered place to enjoy and the stress associated with the mess that is always in the back of her mind put to rest. She needed someone to go charging into that sea of stuff with her...and to remind her that throwing something away is not wasteful...it is freeing. She will have a wonderful yard sale in a few weeks...and hopefully will get enough money to replace the bedding in one of the bedrooms. Yeah, we threw that out too.
So for those of you who have storage rooms...clean them out. Pass down your treasured items to family members. Commit to donating your duplicate items to those who are starting out in a new apartment or in a new marriage. Remember that you can't take it with you anyway...so you may as well leave very little for your descendants to grumble about once you're gone. They will love you all the more for it.
I suppose my in-laws set the best example I've seen in awhile. About five or so years ago (maybe more...I lose track of time), they sat down with their four children and told them that they were selling the house and dispersing the contents. If we wanted something...we needed to ask. A few items were assigned to different children for various reasons...but everything else was pretty much a "first come...first served" type situation. So, they have already downsized. They have passed along items to us...when they were able to explain the significance. They can enjoy seeing their items used in our homes. They can know that they are not going to burden us with the stress and drama that traditionally goes along with dividing up items after the fact. I am grateful to them for this.
David's sister, Wendy, did the same thing with some family jewelry that she inherited as the only girl of the four. She gave each of her three nieces a beautiful ring that had belonged to her grandmother...the girls' great-grandmother. Jill treasures hers.
That being said...I'm going to go tackle my closet now. There are some stragglers living in there...and they appear to be breeding. I look forward to the sense of satisfaction after a good closet purge...and I know I'll be inspired to keep it going in other areas of the house. I also look forward to seeing the joy in my friend's face in a few weeks when we free her from the bondage that is the "upstairs" in full.
I look forward to seeing her smile.