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April 26, 2011

Notes from the half-way place

A few weeks ago I got drunk and declared to the world at large that I was paring down by one half. Donate, sell, give away to friends, recycle, whatever, just reduce my personal collection of stuff by one half.

I had my own reasons. I had just gone through a move that was traumatic and expensive and required two trips on the moving truck and three movers. For one woman.

One human with all that stuff!

It costs money to house and move and transport and clean and care for that much stuff. It takes time and energy. And I am not yet done moving in my life, so I figured I could either sit in a corner and chew on my arm while dreading my own belongings or I could take this opportunity to lighten up. Action makes me feel like control and control makes me feel like I'm not going insane so you know, I took action. It's not everyone's way of dealing but it's how I do things.

Listen, there are times when it's healthy to sit and feel your feelings. Then there are times when your feelings will rear up and snatch you baldheaded and your best bet is to drink wine from a large mug and clean out your sock drawer until your feelings become less CRAZY. Trust me on this one.

When I shared my desire to get rid of half my stuff the responses were fascinating. I love people, love how we're all so different. Some folks immediately chimed in with, "Me, too!" or offered support or little tips for de-cluttering. Some folks found it all too sudden and worried that I was being impulsive and cavalier.

"Don't be hasty," one commenter cautioned. "You might regret it."

Lots of people worried I was downsizing my cats, and I ignored them since I assumed they were stoned.

Some felt it important to point out that my fondue pots or saws were not exact duplicates. Each has its own special use, each is unique. Never mind that I didn't use either fondue pot and that one of my handsaws was still in its original unopened packaging. Or that a woman living alone in a tiny city apartment needs not one but TWO saws.

This email said so much:

Dear Laurie, Please keep both saws! They are as different as boots and sandals and made for entirely different purposes. The one with the miter box is for small stuff, even metal stuff, that is only as deep as the distance from the top to the blade. The other saw is for wood and other bulky materials (plastic pipe etc) like when you want to cut a log for the fireplace or a branch off a tree. It will be the most useful for you. Best wishes!

I kind of loved that email. The urgency of the saw-keeping emotion was tangible. I felt it. I still got rid of the saw but I felt the keeper's longing in that note. Realistically, though, I live in urban temporary housing, a three-floor walkup with parking meters out front. My firewood and branch-cutting needs are minimal. If there comes a day when I need to saw my way out of a tree I will probably just call the fire department. But still I appreciated the deep desire to hang on, just in case.

Mostly I was interested to learn how exact and precise and semantically fastidious some folks are about phrases like "one half." I'm fairly certain no one is going to show up at my doorstep one day in August and measure my belongings by volume or weight or do an item-by-item analysis and fine me for being one-eleventeenth over the line on coffee mugs. Listen, I can't even get anyone out to fix my stove. There's not an apartment police nearby.

One Half was just my vague but simple goal, a good way to pare down. You could call it downsizing if this math is making you break into hives.

Some areas for downsizing were obvious and easy in my hoard. If there was a duplicate, it had to go. If it was broken, unused or never going to be used it went. If it was a gift I never wanted it went.

Other areas are harder and require flexibility. I don't have a lot of DVDs but the ones I have are all watched periodically, I like them all, I picked each one with care, and they have a designated storage space. No need to make myself feel bad and force myself to pare down something I enjoy when I can just as easily overcompensate paring down things I don't love, like old socks and T-shirts that I never wear or paper products I have never used.

It's slow going and not always easy. Over the weekend I finally unpacked the books, scrutinizing each one before placing it on the shelf. Paring down books is an absolute necessity but it's not easy for me. I started with easier things like kitchen stuff and doodads and T-shirts so that when I got to the book boxes (17 of them, thank you) I was in a paring-down groove and it went well. I didn't get rid of half by a longshot but I did manage to thin the herd.

As I unpacked books I put all my unread books in one area of the shelves and at the end of the weekend I was surprised to discover that about 40% of what I kept are books I haven't even read yet! (Not including craft books and reference books, and I have a lot of those still, very hard to pare down there.) Now I can book shop from my own shelves -- that certainly fits my budget.

After reading that comment from a stranger, the one who cautioned me I may regret my decision to downsize, I wondered if I would miss this stuff. Would I regret it? Regret is one of the few emotions I think is useless and I try not to hover there for long. I decided it wasn't even a question worth thinking about. I can't live my life paralyzed, scared I'll regret giving away a dumb fondue pot or an old Sidney Sheldon paperback.

I'd prefer to cultivate hope, not regret. I hope this process will help me feel more connected to people than to items. I hope that I have a better appreciation for each day instead of each thing. I hope that moving will be easier next time. I hope that I can spend less time cleaning and organizing and stacking my stuff and more time living my life.

And anyway, when it comes to stuff they're still making it every day. You can always re-stuffify. There will always be saws on the shelves for your future unseen branch-cutting needs.

Posted by laurie at April 26, 2011 10:24 AM