Friday, April 22, 2011

Too Much Stuff

I hate standing up to eat. I did it today though, so I could see the ocean while I had my breakfast. There it is, that little sliver of blue just above the hedge.

We're cleaning out my parents' beach house so it can be rented. They've owned the house for about fifteen years, maybe longer. Over the years lots of family members have stored their belongings here. Belongings they no longer want or have space for but didn't want to part with. Now Pete, Sarah, my brother and I are dealing with those things.

Yeah, it's not fun. So much stuff that people thought they needed or wanted. Much of it is still in good condition.  Some of it is new. Most of it has gone to the local thrift store. Dad hoarded batteries, Mom has a thing for tablecloths. More than one couple in the family never opened some of their wedding gifts.

In the linen closet we discovered that mice had gotten in to one of those buckwheat filled microwaveable neck warmer thingies. Actually, Sarah found out the hard way. She had volunteered to reorganize the linen closet. She went to pull some cushion covers off a shelf and a living mouse came flying out of them. Needless to say we've vacuumed, washed all the linens and scoured the shelves.

We've been "cleaning out" a lot in the last several years. First when Mom and Dad moved to California, then when Pete and I sold our house in Brookline, then in California after Dad died. I guess this current instance falls into the "after Dad died" category too.  That's probably part of why it sucks so much.

It's also kind of difficult to see so much high-quality, expensive stuff just go. Things that I wouldn't have chosen for myself, things that I couldn't afford to buy myself, things that should belong to someone whose home is a showplace.

These things are the detritus of divorces, deaths, bankruptcies, dreams that never manifested, dreams that came true but then ended.  I'm finding it difficult to confront all this stuff. Over and over again. I keep more of it than I should because I don't want it to "go to waste" and because I could never afford to buy anything that nice and there it is for free. Maybe I'm also trying to rescue part of those dreams.

Someday I'm going to have to clean out my own house (next week?) Then what am I going to do?

At the moment our place is something of a warehouse. We have bags and boxes full of other people's once cherished possessions, as well as our own cheap junk.  Pete and I are both too engaged in our own pursuits to take the time to make decorative vignettes. Our living spaces are small so there isn't much room for vignettes. Also, who wants to dust?

We should probably have an auction.

Managing all this stuff is difficult for someone like me who has terrible organization skills to begin with. Plus it's so much more than just managing stuff, it's also dealing with change.

Yesterday Sarah did something that was really helpful and that I hope has changed my perspective: she re-organized the kitchen cupboards.  There were too many dishes in there. She streamlined and made things logical. She didn't just get rid of stuff, she improved the infrastructure.

This is how we can shape the change that happens to us. We can assess the loss, look at what remains and figure out what else needs to change so we can make what remains into something new and good. 

I guess it's like a good pruning job: you don't just hack stuff off the top, you revitalize the whole plant. We might have to cut off the old branches that once served us well but are now getting in the way of the new growth. The tree will look different than what we were used to but it will be healthier and more productive.

Not that it's easy to do that.

My brother and Sarah left early this morning. Now it's just Pete, Fay and me. There's still a lot of cleaning and organizing that needs to be done before we go. Even then the house won't be ready for rental. I'll need to come back a couple more times to finish up.

This poor place needs more than a clean out though.  I think I'd feel better if I could revitalize the whole place, not just the kitchen cupboards. All in good time.


Hope said...

I hate cleaning/organizing/decluttering. But it feels so good when it's done!

John Gregg said...

I have a religion: It is organized by town as a yahoo group. Basically, you post that you have something to give away, and people email you, and you select (however you want) the lucky recipient, and they arrange to come by and pick up the object. Scanning through the listings, it's amazing what people are willing to take if it's free. The rule is you aren't allowed to charge for anything. The main goal is to keep stuff out of landfills. I've gotten rid of tons of stuff this way, which is good since I'm a terrible packrat.

lizkdc said...

I am reading this a month late, but wanted to day how much I love it.

"This is how we can shape the change that happens to us. We can assess the loss, look at what remains and figure out what else needs to change so we can make what remains into something new and good. "

That's a pretty striking thought out of cleaning stuff up. Of course, I completely fetishize the glory of cleaning something up, after postponing it obsessively, so I am weird that way too.