A more mundane subject for today, but as I was
thinking about what I have done for the move lately, getting rid of clutter
seems to be what has been keeping me busy for the past couple of weeks.
Everyone agrees that moving is a great opportunity to throw
out, give away, discard. All that stuff that we are not going to need in the
new place – because it is worn, outdated or we haven’t used it in years – can finally
go. This happens not just because of the “urge to purge” that visits us before
a move; clearing out some of the clutter in our lives also makes economic
sense. Moving costs money, and paying money to move junk from one place to another
is not a sensible thing to do.
We have been in our current apartment for over seven
years now, so you can imagine how much clutter has accumulated. I am happy that
our impending move forces me to go through the purging process, because clutter
makes me nervous; it lowers my quality of life. Which is why getting rid of it gives me so much pleasure. My guiding principle for discarding is that
anything I am unlikely to use or refer to in the next five years (for
clothes, it’s an even shorter threshold period) has to go. I tend to do my
cleaning up at the oddest moments – basically whenever it occurs to me, even if
I am in the middle of something else. I may be on my way to the kitchen to get
a glass of water and end up coming back an hour later, after having cleaned out our medicine cabinet.
Yet, as much as I love getting rid of clutter, I don’t
manage to do it as often as I’d like to. Neither does the rest of my family
(our kids are hoarders par excellence). The results are apparent in our
apartment. I am always impressed when I visit friends or family – there are
many of them – who have pristine apartments without any newspapers or magazines
lying around in stacks; no boxes overflowing with toys or clothes; no unopened
mail or unpaid bills lingering on the dining room table.
One of the things that I find the hardest to let go of
is paper: books, magazines, notes from my university days, even post-its with phone
numbers on them (over the years, I’ve gotten better with newspapers).  In my parents’ basement in Athens, I have several binders with course material and notes from a degree I completed in 1997! My father had been
harassing me for years to get rid of them so that they would not take up all that
space, but I always found an excuse not to do it. They are still there.
However, I am proud to report that I’m changing for the better. Yesterday, I disposed of all
my PhD binders – only a bit more than a
decade old J. Bags and bags of paper. I am planning to do much more.
Why is it that I hold on to all that stuff in the
first place? What makes me think that I will ever have a reason to go back to
my econometrics notes? Or my assignments on regression analysis? Is it laziness,
lack of time or procrastination (or all of the above) that don’t let us get
to the tedious task? Or is it the need to hold on to certain elements of our
past – our achievements and milestones, our history – that shaped our present – who we are today? The binders I just threw away were the “background”
behind that piece of paper I keep framed above my desk. As if I need to justify
(to myself? to others?) how I got there. I feel liberated now that they are gone and I have all this extra space – but also a bit disconnected.
What makes it easier (or harder) to let go? Why are some of us better (or worse) “clutterers” than
others? I wonder if there is a connection
between a “nomadic” lifestyle and accumulating stuff. It could go both ways. If
you are constantly on the move, you may not want to be tied down by stuff; so
you don’t accumulate it. My husband claims to be like that (though in practice,
he’s as much of a hoarder as I am J). On the other
hand, if you are used to changing environments often, you may want to keep memories from the different phases of your life – which results in much more clutter than
the average “local” person.
What’s your relationship with clutter – and how
comfortable are you letting go of it, especially when you move?

One Comment

  1. I just spent a few months throwing away my parents' stuff — including my father's collected business correspondence since the 1950s. The fact is that clutter makes us want to hold on to the false things. Relationships matter, and they can't be put behind glass. Stuff is just that, stuff, and needs to go … except for a few precious items that really have significance for us; the rest needs to go so that we live.

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