Freedom from Stuff

My husband and I started looking at our home and realized we needed to downsize our possessions. To de-stuff-ify our lives, we decided to take two paths. One involved sorting and getting rid of things. That part was easy. Kind of. He felt it was easy to get rid of my stuff and I thought his junk could go. Somewhere down the line we compromised and most everything lays in the “get rid of pile.” The other path involved not filling the space back up again with new junk. In today’s consumer driven world, that is not as easy as it  seems.

The Easy Part

The plan was easy for some items. No more buying Star Trek tribbles (my husband has a dozen so far and I fear they’re breeding), large games like Zombies!!!, or any more decorative pretties like lovely, swirly glass balls (one of our kryptonites). Saying no to things like this means we save money and our already burdened shelves don’t overflow.

The Emotional Part

So many possessions in a person’s home have deep memories attached to them. It may be a child’s finger-painting, gifts from distant friends or t-shirts from a favorite rock band. All of it has “special” moments attached, which is where the emotion comes in. Still, the memories remain even after the t-shirt becomes a rag or when the finger-painter graduates college. Don’t let things burden your memories, particularly if you have to spend lots of money to preserve them.

House lady

From Labyrinth. What I don’t want to become

The Hard Part

My husband calls me a hobby magpie. I love trying new things. In the years he has known me, I have tried bead work (with and without jewelry), rag rug weaving, quilting, Chinese painting, calligraphy, drawing, fairy gardens,  canning, food dehydration (jerky making), bow shooting, golfing, bowling, carving, wood burning, and lathe work (bowls and pens) Before we met, I did jewelry casting, painting, embroidery, crewel work, counted cross stitch, sewing clothes, leather work, and macramé. I’d try a hobby long enough to become good at it or stay terrible and then I moved on to the next one. My husband drew the line at woodworking, saying “you aren’t moving on from this,” because of the large, expensive equipment (foolish man! I just need more woodworking tools!).

The down side to all this is that over the years I’ve collected giant tubs of leftover hobby materials that have subsequently filled the basement and the garage, and that is not counting the two lathes and a band saw. This includes a 60-gallon tub nearly bursting with sorted boxes of beads because I’ve never seen a sparkly bead I didn’t like. At least three tubs have fabrics of various sizes, including two-inch strips that are waiting for inspiration. Then there’s the bottles of inks which haven’t been opened in 15 years. Now that I’m getting rid of these possessions, I need to find new homes for them.

Craft Sales are Evil!

One huge reason I accumulated so much stuff was due to craft sales. Fabric is pretty expensive so the Joanne Fabrics’ 50% off sales are my heroin addiction. I go in to find one piece of material as a backer for a nearly finished quilt and come out with over a hundred dollars of 10+ fabrics for this pretty quilt in my mind. My justification, “but they were on sale!” I then wash the fabrics, fold them nicely, and store them until I have time to cut and quilt them. That equates to time enough for the idea to disappear and me to find them a year or more later and wonder, “what was I going to do with this weird orange color? Cowboy fabric? What the hell was I thinking?”

Beads were the same way. The rainbow of sparkly colors hanging on threads across the craft store’s wall beckoned to me. “Buy me! Love me! I’ll look gorgeous in an opera length necklace!” Most of them are still huddling, crying piteously, in the darkness of the green tub.

Wood is also a problem. After all, nature’s glory comes in many lovely shades of tan, browns, reds and even blacks. The wood grains create artistry that becomes gorgeous in the final product. Yet wood is expensive and rare woods are hard to find. So when I go into a Rockler or a Woodcraft store and run my fingers over the lovely play of light and dark, you can bet I’m going to buy some. Luckily, they don’t run as many sales and are too far away for frequent visits.

The other problem with wood for lathe work is that you can get it for free if you are around when a maple or cherry tree goes down. My garage is filled with free wood chunks waiting to be transformed into beautiful bowls.

Freedom from Shopping

America’s rabid consumerism through TV ads, paper flyers, emails, and text alerts on sales all feature the same kind of frantic “buy it now or you’ll never ever have another chance again!” feeling. One day near Christmas, I was walking the local mall, knowing I already had all my gifts and our checkbook was close to empty. Yet the flood of garish displays, people handing out samples, advertisements on loudspeakers, and more felt like a building pressure similar to before massive violent storm. Shop! Spend! Gifts! Treats! It was never-ending. I left the mall with a pounding headache and a vague sense of guilt. The guilt is what the marketers want you to feel. Since then, I avoid shopping in December.

The Power to Say No

When my husband and I embraced the idea of downscaling, I felt like someone gave me permission to stop buying things. I felt lighter and freer. Somehow, I had become the old woman from Labyrinth, bent over from the weight of all my possessions. But now it was different. I had my goal in mind and purchasing more fabric, fancy wood, games, and pretty babbles was not needed.  I had more power to say no.

So now I delete the ads and throw away the sales flyers. I’m sure Joanne, Michaels, Rockler, and others will survive without my money. If they don’t, oh well, it’s not my fault. I will still create beautiful things, only now by using up the stored material. I’ve simply stopped making some crafts, like rag rugs and bead work. Goodwill will get the t-shirts and bed sheets I saved for that. The beads will go to friends or in garage sales.

This first step in our journey to paring down our possessions was harder and more emotional than I thought it would be. However, afterwards we will feel better and less burdened. We’ll also be able to save a bit of money. And that is always a good idea.

Voids and Estates

As many of you know, I served as a caregiver for an elderly relative for a while. Nine years to be exact. I’ve written a few blogs about it and even complained a bit on Facebook. Like many caregivers, I occasionally dreamed of the days when I could be free again to travel or work to my heart’s content.

A picture of an elderly lady dressed in red.

In my mother-in-law’s final days, she needed intensive care, often pushing me past limits I had set for years. There were always things I didn’t want to do, mostly diaper changing and spoon-feeding. But when the need came, I did what’s necessary because we push our boundaries for those we love.

My mother-in-law eventually passed away as comfortably as I could make her. I was free again to do what I liked with my time. However, a void filled my life instead. I stumbled through the days after, trying to be effective and failing. I felt lost and unsure. Things needed to be done, people paid, boxes packed, but I felt at a loss to even begin.

Now a month later, the void eased back, but many tasks still lay ahead. I took on the burden of her estate. It is not the first time for me. I’ve helped other people six times in cleaning out possessions and moving forward with all the things needed in closing the final chapter on a person’s life. However, those people were friends and coworkers. Only once before did it feel so personal, so painful to filter through the intimate details of a person’s life

I began to feel irritated at her. It seemed like she had so much junk! How dare she die and leave me this mess to clean up! Of course, that thinking is wrong no matter how it feels. During the days, my time was filled with packing up donations, planning the selling of furniture, and making fair arrangements for everyone. At night, the nightmares came. Twisted dreams of doubt and guilt filled the nights until I came to hate the things left behind.

Finally, at my daughter’s suggestion, I eased back on the work, giving myself time to breathe. And grieve. The importance of my mother-in-law’s life shone through in those few possessions she kept until the end. The long gloves and vintage purses were mementos of dates and parties. The ornate pill boxes shone with memories of happy trips. The thirty-year-old furniture had filled her home. It became important to me to remember her life in dealing with her possessions. They helped me understand her more.

So I guess the moral of this blog is not to bury yourself in burdensome possessions and taint the memories of a person after they are gone. Clearing out the closets (or whole house) will always be painful. Get help from a friend or other relative. If you know of someone who had a recent loss, offer to help them when they are ready. Sometimes having mental distance is the best thing to get through those painful times. Remember that eventually the items will be gone, the estate settled, and everyone will return back to their own lives. However, your memories and love for the cherished person will live on.