Back on the 18th Nov Sabine left a comment about how her friend Debbie had helped her with an emotionally difficult declutter job on memorabilia that was cluttering up her garage. I asked her if she would be kind enough to write a blog post to share with us all. She gladly accepted the challenge and the post below is the result of her effort. I am sure you will all enjoy it and feel free to leave comments and questions for Sabine because she would love your feedback.
Let me also say thank you to her friend Debbie for being there for her when the going got tough. Decluttering isn’t always easy but the hard part can be a lot less daunting with a friend there to back you up.
So without further adieu here is Sabine’s story.
The back wall of my garage is lined with shelves, the shelves stacked with plastic tubs. Until recently (pre-365), a lot of other stuff was jammed onto the shelves. And in front of them. All over the floor, really.
And scariest of all were the tubs labelled ‘memorabilia’. I left them for last while I was working through the garage, five in all. These were supposedly things I had kept for the good memories, but just looking at the tubs made me anxious. In the last five years I had never opened them to enjoy the contents, only to stuff more things in.
Part of my dread, I realized, was not knowing exactly what was in there. If I went through them, would there be unpleasant surprises? I had appeared to have kept just about everything that had passed through my life in my garage, why wouldn’t it be the same with memorabilia? Like many people. I’ve got some unhappy things in my past. What if going through the tubs made me think about that stuff? I didn’t want to.
Nor did I want to keep looking at those tubs. Five 20-gallon tubs. That’s 100 gallons of memories! But tackling the garage bit by bit built up my tolerance, I guess. I had thrown away so much worthless stuff (and half my bras and underwear, by accident- oops!) and it felt SO good.
When all that was left between me and a garage I would be happy to enter, were those five tubs, I worked up the courage to face them. Sort of. I asked a friend to help.
Deb has been decluttering her home at the same time I have (and reading 365). We commiserate, and egg each other on, and she really understands the emotional component of decluttering.
She came over, we had a nice lunch, and lined up the tubs. We started with the one I thought would be easiest: my kids’ old clothes. And it WAS the easiest, both in terms of the memories all being good, and how easy it was to let items go. The surprise was there was quite a bit of stuff where I was thinking, “Why did I ever keep this?” They were easy to toss, and it gave me confidence.
I ended up with three items to keep out of about 40, and about 12 items I photographed. The pictures will go into our album, with a note about the memories they evoke. Two pages, instead of twenty gallons.
Well, it was good I started with the easy one. When I opened the next tub, I actually had to put the lid back on and take some breaths, before opening it for real. It was filled with kids’ school papers and jumble. Just the sight was a mental overload. I got a sick feeling in my stomach. Deb was a big help. She kept saying, “It’s okay. One thing at a time.”
I took out a handful and went through it piece by piece. Once I had begun, the stomach tension went away, but each new handful brought a separate flare of anxiety. Once she saw what my criteria for going through it was(I was sorting first), Deb asked if she could help, making sure I knew it was fine with her if I just wanted her to back off. The perfect helper! She did a rough sort for me, and we winnowed the two tubs of kids’ stuff in less than an hour.
At this point Deb started giving me deadlines, ’cause she could see I was bogging down in the sheer volume. “Twenty minutes to get through this tub!” I flipped out a little, but it got me going, and made me remember I wasn’t doing this to save everything, but to choose the best. And at the bottom of the tub, I realized she let me go over the twenty minutes: it just made me focus. Good ploy, Deb!
Then I went through child by child, and chose what to keep. That part was fun. I chose items that were indicative of each child, found some great stuff to frame and enjoy on our walls. We took a break and moved the piles of keepers, recycling, shredding, etc. It made a good mental as well as physical space, and I could see I was making progress.
The fourth tub was a surprise. More than half of it was just junk (legos, bobbypins, flashlights) that had gotten stuffed in there by mistake during one of my panicked clearouts. Super easy to deal with.
Then the biggie. Memories of my childhood, my father who raised me (now dead), my mother (with whom I have a difficult relationship). This is where the tears came. But I looked at everything. I found items to toss (a perfect attendance plaque from my father’s work-what?!?) and items to keep (a letter he wrote to his boss, turning down a prestigious promotion, because he needed to stay in his current job for the sake of his children’s stability). Items to offer my children (my grandmother’s jewelery which had no meaning for me, but they thought was retro-awesome).
I found funny things. Thank you notes for wedding presents I had forgotten to mail (22 years ago!). I tossed the ones to people who were dead, or divorced, and mailed the rest. They all enjoyed receiving them, with my note on the back, explaining.
I asked my sister if she wanted anything, and then…it was done.
My goal had been to get down to two tubs. It was down to one.
All but one item provokes good memories (working on letting go of that last item, but I’m just not ready yet). When I want to revisit memories, I know it will be a good, and easy, experience. I don’t need to let dread stop me.
Deb and I put everything away, and had dessert.
I felt wonderful. Amazed that I had done it. Writing this post three weeks later, I can only remember a few of the things I tossed (old spelling tests for one). I let this junk clog up my life, my spirit, and my garage for years, and it was such trivial stuff I can hardly remember it now. It kept me from enjoying the things worth keeping. What a waste. I don’t feel guilty. I do feel like a valuable lesson was learned.
And the aftermath! After Deb left, I couldn’t stop. I was so charged up, I tackled my photographs. I now have twenty years of negatives on CDs and the rest lined up to do bit by bit.
I am glad I waited until I had done quite a bit of decluttering. I had developed the skills to assess the stuff, and ask myself questions about what was worth keeping. And I don’t know if I would have had the courage to start, without Deb. Guess I’ve also learned which jobs are just too much to tackle alone.
Lesson learned? Yes. This week I came home with a theater program, looked at it, remembered the enjoyment of the performance, then tossed the paper. Yay!
Today’s Declutter Item
In keeping with today’s post theme my declutter item for today is a bunch of old birthday cards I had kept from my 40th birthday. It was a lovely day, my hubby sent me off to the spa for a facial, a manicure and a full body massage while he prepared dinner for our guests. I don’t need these cards to remind me of that. The tattoo however will be there for life.
Something I Am Grateful For Today
Finally I felt well enough to tackle the housework today. It feels so good to know everything is clean. My son wanted to cook pizza but there was no way I was going to let him mess up my kitchen. He can cook pizza tomorrow, today is for enjoying seeing everything sparkle.
“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast