Learning to Let It Go

This is not my guest room, or even my house. But you get the idea of the mess I was dealing with.

Seven years ago, I bought a 900-square-foot, two-bedroom, one (tiny!) bath house. At the time, it was just me and Charley. It was the perfect size for the two of us. I didn’t know how much my family would grow.

Now, it’s me and Chris along with Charley and two other rescue dogs. Five beings in a relatively small space. I’ve tried to make improvements over the years, including remodeling a hideously white bathroom with painted floor tile.

But none of the improvements have increased the lack of storage space in my house (and the 2-3 inches gained in the bathroom don’t count). I have a single closet in the entire house, and it’s divided between the two bedrooms. It meant the guest room turned into a large walk-in closet, half full of Chris’ clothing and shoes, and half full of things I just couldn’t bring myself to part with.

I’m the type of person who doesn’t particularly like clutter, but I also have a hard time getting rid of it. So when it starts to build, I get overwhelmed and give up. I haven’t reached hoarder status, but 20 years from now, it could have become a problem.

Three computers (a desktop from college and two dead laptops) had been stored in the guest room from the beginning, along with tote upon tote of crafting supplies. Things I hadn’t touched in years. So why was I keeping them?

This year, I decided it was time for it to go. The computers, the crafting supplies, and the clothes I hadn’t worn in ages. I had heard a philosophy on decluttering, that you should place everything in one big pile, and go through it a single item at a time. Ask yourself why you are keeping it. And think about whether that particular item evokes happiness. If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, let it go.

So I grabbed a chair and took up residence in the guest room for an entire day. I started on a top shelf and worked my way down. The laptops came down first. Did I love what I thought was on that computer? Enough to take it to a computer store to see if they could access it after all these years?

No. I know there are story ideas and half-written projects on those three computers. But if I haven’t thought about them in years, they aren’t worth the space in my house, or in my heart.

Then there were the dozens of skeins of yarn and half-finished crochet projects. If I didn’t finish them, were they worth going back to? Would I really ever complete them? No. Into the big black trash bag they went, along with the Knifty Knitters, both round and oblong.

This bracelet took probably about 24 hours to complete.

Jewelry-making supplies, old Halloween costumes, soap-making molds. All went into the trash bags, destined for a better home, where people would love them more than I could anymore.

But the silver briefcase with seed beads was a challenge. I’d been collecting those beads and containers since I was a teenager. I’d made dozens upon dozens of bracelets, rings, necklaces and more with those beads.

I loved them. I still love them. But I don’t use them anymore. I don’t make the cuff bracelets that I adored because they took so long to make that I’d have to set the price too high to sell them to make it worth my time. And I only have so many wrists, fingers, necks, etc., to wear them on.

In my most emotional decision of the decluttering project, I listed the beads on eBay. There were likely tens of thousand of beads in that case. I set the reserve price at $60. And I was sad when they sold for that price. But it was time to let them go. I couldn’t keep them just because of the memories. And I can always buy more if the beading bug hits me again. I know this.

Vintage clothing went into the bags, too. Dresses I’d loved for 15 years, that were more than 70 years old, were donated. I could have sold them, I’m sure, but I didn’t want to drag out any more of the process. I wanted space.

In all, six large garbage bags ended up at Goodwill. Six bags of memories.

There were other memories, too. Like the card from my cousin-in-law after my dad’s death. Or the piece of a saw blade that punctured my truck tire in the ’90s when I still lived at home. I remember getting into the driveway of my home and hearing the air pour out. I ran to get my dad for help, and we put the spare tire on together. But did I still need that saw blade? I took pictures of these things so I won’t forget. But then I gently laid them in the garbage, like a funeral for a beloved friend. I couldn’t keep everything.

But I didn’t get rid of all of my memories. I kept the dozens of photos from years past. I held onto the fabric I knew I could use for a good purpose. I kept a few skeins of yarn and all of my crochet hooks. I still have a tote full of makeup- and lotion-making supplies, because I will keep making natural skincare products.

I also kept all of my Halloween makeup supplies, including the liquid latex and scar gel. Scary monsters and aliens will always be my favorite Halloween characters.

Now, for the first time in seven years, the guest room is just about ready to be just that – a room for guests. This weekend, a bed will go in there. Friends and family will be able to visit without having to sleep on the sofa.

It’s just one more step in making my house a home. Now, if only I could push out a wall or two …

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