Reducing Clutter, by Rich Paschall
When my grandfather retired and my grandparents moved back to Tennessee from Chicago where they had lived for close to twenty years, they gave away many items they felt they no longer needed. Chief among them was a snow blower. “What if it snows, grandpa?” I asked. He explained that in the unlikely event of snow, it would melt off in a day or two. There was no need for something they may never use again.
When he asked if I would like anything, I said I would take his nightstand if the plan was to leave it behind. It was an inexpensive little piece with a small door on the front to hold just a few items inside. It had a homemade quality and symbolized my grandfather to me. I was probably in early teens. I still have it today. The item could be 100 years old by now.
Their home in small town Tennessee was remarkably uncluttered. They had just what they needed for the next twenty years of their lives. The house was always, neat, clean and orderly and I truly believe that it added to the relaxed and comfortable existence they enjoyed for many years. They never seemed to lack for anything when I would visit. I envy that simple existence now.
When my father retired and moved to Florida with his second wife (not my mom), he too left behind things he could not imagine using again. He had decided to give away his winter outerwear and offered me a nice coat and other items. “What if it gets cold, or you come back to visit in winter, dad?” He pointed out that it never gets that cold in Florida and while he may be back to visit, it would never be in winter.
Aside from taking this winter offering, I desired nothing else. I had his World War II medals and discharge paper. There was nothing else I wanted. I have since passed the World War II memorabilia to my older brother. He has children and may be able to pass them on. By the way, I kept a Good Conduct medal for my “good conduct.” Dad had more than one and I decided not to award my brother with several of these.
Mom was a collector of stuff. I sometimes wondered if this was the result of growing up poor in the Depression. Was the accumulation of items, no matter how little the value, important to someone who had nothing growing up? Were many of us from the Baby Boomer generation collectors because we saw that our parents were?
Mom collected everything from coffee cups to shot glasses, refrigerator magnets to picture frames, swizzle sticks from hotels and restaurants, to match books from the same. There were figurines and candle holders, tea services not to be used, special occasion kitchen ware that may never have seen the special occasion. There were “knickknacks” of all sorts, or what her mother would have simply called “dust catchers.” To me, most of these items did not have enough value to have to dust them every weekend.
After mom had reached her 80’s and could not care for all the stuff, or even recall all the stuff she had, I moved her to an apartment in the same building so we could watch over her a little more closely. That lasted less than a year and she was in a hospital, then a nursing home. I moved to the larger apartment to hold on to the “stuff” in case she recovered well enough to come home. She lived almost 6 years at the home and I not only had a lifetime of my own stuff, I then inherited a mountain of stuff I would never have considered owning. Worse yet, many of the dust collectors I owned were some of the same items I grew up looking at. I can not explain how I did not want these things. For whatever reason, I could not get rid of much of it in the years that followed.
In the past year, however, I decided it was time to start to eliminate many of these things. I had shelves and cabinets overflowing with items that I would never use and in some cases never wanted. What if I have to move? I do not want to have to take a lot of these things. What if I die? Someone will just toss out most of it anyway. Is this “stuff” adding anything to my life? This really is the key question. If I was not going to use it and it did not hold some great personal value, it was time to go.
It is hard to do an assessment of items that have been in your house for decades. You may falsely conclude that they have a sentimental value when all they really enjoy is longevity. Consider cleaning up and not leaving it to others. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your kids, or grandkids, do not want your stuff. Yes, they may desire an item or two, but for the most part your stuff will end up being donated or tossed out, so you might as well do it yourself. Consider how much of your parents or grandparents stuff you wanted? I am not talking about family photos, I am talking about “stuff.”
Last year I tossed out a lot of stuff. I did not want them and could not imagine anyone paying 25 cents for them, so they finally hit the trash. I gave a lot of stuff away to various charities, depending on the type of item. I also listed things on eBay if I thought they had a value. I sell about a half-dozen items a month. At this pace I could sell stuff for the next 25 years and still have a lot of things. When I retire, I will likely increase my eBay offerings or my donations to resale shops, probably both. If anyone wants stuff, I will be happy to oblige.