I have the tendency to accumulate stuff … all sorts of stuff, really. I’m an indiscriminate stuff gatherer – not a hoarder, mind you, but certainly one of those people who sees a recipe in a magazine and rips it out in the hopes that someday I’ll test my culinary skills and wow my family.
I gather those free gifts of detergent, toothpaste, floss, office supplies and other paraphernalia that come through the mail and put them in boxes, containers and drawers, intending to pull them out at just the right time, only to have them gather dust over the years because I forgot they were there.
I am a compulsive collector of beloved things, which for me includes pens (very specific micro-tipped rollerball pens), handbags, music, lip balm, stationery and, of course, books.
I’ve long recognized this penchant to amass stuff, so it was ideal that my husband and I moved nine times in our first nine years of marriage. Every move meant a purge of all the stuff I’d begun to gather, if for no reason other than I didn’t want to pack another box that would require unpacking.
The mandatory downsizing kept me in check. But then we moved to our current home nine years ago, and I began to accumulate again, this time with no liquidation in sight.
The garage shelves became lined with boxes of old records (with no record player to play them on); old office supplies from previous jobs; failed home decorations (Martha Stewart I am not) that have been relegated to plastic Safeway bags to hide my poor taste; slow cookers that don’t heat properly; waffle irons in the shape of Mickey Mouse and Scooby Doo that my boys used to love but could now eat 20 of them without a single breath between bites; and extra nuts and bolts that join the countless others in the old rusted Folgers can sitting on the workbench.
My bookcases are overflowing with books that have been devoured and then stacked carelessly in piles waiting their turn to be sent to the second-hand bookstore. Clear Rubbermaid tubs contain rubber-banded, color-coded groups of pens that await the feel of paper.
So, last weekend, we finally decided to do a little summer cleaning. We rented a U-Haul truck – yes, it takes a U-Haul – made piles of items that go to the dump and items that go to Goodwill, and we spent the morning and a good part of the afternoon decluttering.
As I lovingly went through nine years of material possessions, remembering each moment or period of time that led to the purchase or acquisition of the item, I began to wonder if I needed to do this same exercise with other things I’d amassed over the years – not material things, but things that have been cluttering up my life just the same.
Bad memories, hurt feelings, critical words, negative perceptions, bitter thoughts, lost dreams, crushed goals, buried hopes, failed efforts – each occur over time interspersed with happy memories, words that give life, positive outlooks, moments that take your breath away, life-altering friendships, and momentous achievements that create a lasting impact.
Instead of reliving those encouraging moments, I realized I’ve been hanging on to the negative clutter inside my head and heart, clinging to it so hard that it began to define me and my outlook on life.
So, I created my piles in my mind: the dump pile for those experiences and memories that never needed to be seen again, and the Goodwill pile for the lessons that taught me something, even if the lesson was painful, rubbing like sandpaper against my thick skin. I forced each negative memory into one of those piles, giving it a silent goodbye as it exited my life.
When the day was done and the cobwebs cleared, the junk discarded and the reusable bits donated, I was reminded how good it feels to clear away the past that no longer contributes to my present but greatly affects my future.
Karin Leeburg Larsen of Puyallup works in Seattle and enjoys writing everything from novels to a cooking blog. She is one of six reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at Klarsen265@gmail.com.