Ever look around your house and feel buried by your possessions?
Well, I was visiting a friend of mine recently. She and her husband have moved into a spacious new condo. It’s sleek and uncluttered, and comfortable. What makes it feel spacious, however, is the total lack of clutter of any kind. Understated. Classy. That’s how it feels inside her beautiful environment.
Then I came home and walked into the war zone.
“That’s it,” I said to myself. (No point talking to the family about it; they’re used to these tirades!) I’m going to follow the advice of Elaine St James in her book, Living the Simple Life, a Guide to Scaling Down and Enjoying More. She says clutter consumes our energy and that it’s easy to rid myself of “things” by putting them in unlabelled boxes and depositing them in the garage or basement (if I can find room!). Then, in six months if I haven’t gone looking for whatever is in the boxes, it’s quite clear I can live without it and should just deposit the boxes in a dumpster or at a thrift shop.
It’s a good theory.
It has no room for sentiment.
So, let’s start with some of the things I have in my life that I might put into an unlabelled box. (I think the theory behind the unlabelled box is that I’d have to really work to go looking for the item, and if it’s not worth digging for then I don’t need it) Except, my clutter is not a matter of need. Okay, the typewriters. They’re obsolete, aren’t they? Nobody uses them or wants them anymore. So why do I have five of them? Well, when I was 10 my grandfather retired from his business and GAVE me his 1910 Underwood typewriter. It’s gorgeous, with chrome keyes, and silky typing mechanism, and I love the black and gold finish, the scrollwork of the Underwood font. It reminds me alot of my treadle sewing machine! (one of three sewing machines and I’m not going into that) I used that Underwood all through public and high school, typing assignments, preparing essays, learning how to write right onto the keyboard, thinking through my fingers, as it were.
When I went off to Journalism school, the Underwood was pretty cumbersome, and in first year I typed essays for other students and earned $125 to buy myself a 1967 Smith Corona portable. In a sleek, grey steel case, this typewriter is really what I earned my living on between 1969 and 1985. Some of my best research, and best writing has come from the keys of that machine.
I used to take it in to Star Business Machines for repair. The last time I took it in to have the “n” key welded back on again, the Garside family shook its collective head and suggested that they’d accept it back one more time… for parts. I still have it. Then I bought an electronic typewriter which I used for only a year. It remembers a whole line, lets me insert letters, centre things electronically… really a state of the art Smith Corona plug-in type machine. I can also change fonts on this with a nifty little interchangeable plate.
I said five typewriters, so I’ll tell you about the other two. When my son was a wee gaffer, I had a desk for him beside mine, with a phone, paper, crayons etc. We went out one day to buy him a typewriter and the Garsides at Star Business Machines came to the rescue… they “sold” Benji their labelling typewriter, again a Smith Corona and it looked just like mine except the letters were huge. It was perfect for a little person. And he used it for a long time. How can I throw that out? And then we bought a really old Corona typewriter for visiting children to use.
So, the typewriters have to stay. My husband’s suggestion that I take photos of them from all angles and then put the photos in an album just doesn’t cut it.
So, what else can I clear out?
The potential is incredible… the three bicycle boxes of all the kids’ preschool artwork… gorgeous pieces of art with happy faces, primitive figures, the family, the house, animals, vehicles, you know. How can I let those things go?
Let’s see, maybe in the office area there’d be some potential… the rock paperweight my daughter painted and varnished in kindergarten? I don’t think so. The china doll given to me by a lady I did a story on 20 years ago? I don’t think so. Frames of family and friends at various ages and stages? Nope. The magazines produced under my editorship for a 12 year period during the 80’s? No. Computer software that I no longer have the computer for? That might be a possibility. The box of pictures that’s under my desk from when we moved in 1990 and some part of each frame needs fixing? The photo albums assembled lovingly by my mother-in-law that records a lifetime of family activity? The wooden apple given to me by a dear friend when I bought my first Apple Computer? The basket of plants given to me by work associates when I was really sick a couple of years ago? Let’s leave the office without even opening the file drawers…
Then there’s my daughter’s bear collection which I moved to our guest room when she downsized her possessions. Ornaments, many hand made, of bears and gifts for her birthdays, and Christmasses… they’re all so beautiful. They’re all so covered in dust. Then there’s the large box of parts for a Peterbilt truck model that in 1970 seemed like a good project to my husband. And another box with the trailer for the Peterbilt once it’s put together. (How long does that model glue last, I wonder?)
I can walk into every room in our house and find many things we could live without… a stone sculpture, for instance, except that it was given to us at an important time in our family’s growth signifying the strength of being a family. Then there’s all the piano music from my progressive lessons towards my ARCT, plus all my children’s piano music. And the recorders we used to play together. And the toques and mittens my mother in law made for all of us, the several umbrellas my husband brings back from World Tennis Championships every year.
The 1929 wicker pram that was my children’s baby carriage. The rocker that belonged to an elderly lady that we took into our hearts and loved until her death. My grandparents dining room furniture… big, bulky, and full of memories of being forced to try brussels sprouts as a child sitting at that very table in another house in another city.
I can walk through every room and pick up items that we don’t USE. But I can’t put them in an unlabelled box because they represent love, care, growth, encouragement, connection with my past and part of the fabric of who I am in the present.
Only problem is the future. Eventually, I’ll have to make tough decisions. I’m just not mature enough to do it yet!