Earlier this year, I went home for a little vacation. I expected to relax, go horseback riding, eat more beef than I do at home and…I did. What I did not anticipate, however, was that I would also oversee organizing my past. My parents had decided to sell the family home, and this trip would be my last opportunity to retrieve my lifetime memories held in old boxes in their garage.
Thumbing through the birthday cards, cassette tapes, love letters, diaries and photo albums, I was reminded of many moments and relationships that had played significant roles in my life. Worried I would lose this history, I carted nearly half of the memorabilia to my already crowded home.
Once there, I wrestled the boxes into an overstuffed office closet and breathed a sigh of relief. My past would be there when I needed it, but would be invisible until then, or so I thought.
As the months passed, it became painfully obvious that my mementos were becoming intrusive, taking up more space than I had anticipated. I needed to make more room by sorting through my belongings and letting some go. But to do this, I knew I would have to enlist the help of a professional. It was only after I started working with Cynthia that I understood why my sentimentality was creating clutter.
When setting up an appointment with her, she asked me to think about which room in my house bothered me the most. I quickly replied, my office.
We started with the filing cabinets, which had become a dusty display area, with boxes and a pair of vases with artificial flowers. Knowing I hadn’t used or noticed any of these items in ages made it easy for me to part with them. It wasn’t long before we made our way to the closet, when I heard her say, “It’s funny how lots of people have one of these catch all closets.” That was her way of letting me know that the closet, not the room, was where we needed to focus.
We started digging through the closet, making three piles: Things to give away, to recycle and to keep. We consolidated like items, putting them in transparent, lidded bins that could be easily stacked. One reason I had saved so many things that I rarely used, I explained, was that I felt wasteful throwing them away. She asked, “Which is more important to you, the object or the space that will be created by its departure?” I couldn’t argue with that logic. I also felt great having space and knowing things could easily be located. It made me feel better, lighter, and happier. The second question she asked, when she saw me hesitate was, “What are you afraid of losing?”
Much to my surprise, by the time we got through the first 10 boxes, I was practically compulsive about letting them go. I had never guessed that the power of these mementos would lie more in their liberation than in their preservation. By organizing my space, I quickly realized I felt free and that I didn’t need a document to prove that I had lived a life. The rest of the house was much easier.
And now, whenever I am tempted to stuff more tickets stubs or performance programs into yet another box, I ask myself two very important questions: what is more important, the items or the space, and what am I afraid of losing by throwing them away?
Lori Wallace is a freelance writer