The Un-clutter Dilemma

I failed.  I flunked the “un-clutter” furor.  In the past three years, I’ve done multiple purges of books, jewelry, clothing, shoes, linens, and cooking items.   I’ve tried to develop a detachment to things, as the “get rid of the clutter” gurus advise. Yet, I hang onto a lot of “stuff” beyond the time in which another person would post ads on Craigslist or EBay.

As a teen, I didn’t fill my bedroom with wishes or post dreams upon the walls, or fill desk drawers, or my closet with bits of treasure and secrets.  Something happened when I became an adult.   Now my office is filled with treasures, the walls covered in paintings, prints, photos, and multiple clocks.  Windchimes hang from windows, temple bells from the door, a corner houses a string of brightly colored paper butterflies my granddaughter picked out.

When I take a hard look around, I find bookcases overflowing with books, kitchen cupboards filled with glasses, bowls, platters, and pitchers of all sizes.  A sideboard is filled with two sets of dishes, silverware and candlesticks.  My closet overflows with clothing and shoes.  I’m not a hoarder.   I don’t have piles of things on the floors, narrow aisles between stacks of books and magazines, or duplicates in multiple sizes and colors.

Yet I can’t seem to easily answer the question “does this bring me joy?”   When I try, the story attached to the item comes swirling into my mind like an eddy in a rain-swelled stream.   I can’t remember what I did last week, but I remember the story of each piece of jewelry that I’ve purchased or received as a gift.

The tiny goldsmith shop on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence where I purchased earrings and a bracelet.  The gregarious shop owner in Singapore who was well acquainted with a colleague and therefore eager to make my acquaintance.   Art fairs in many of the Western states, antique stores in Santa Fe and Taos, a jewelry store in Hong Kong, and a pearl market in Beijing, all contributed to my jewelry collection.  Birthday, anniversary, and surprise gifts from my husband, all contribute to a unique and discordant collection.

In my closet are pieces of clothing that my mother owned.  A sweater that reminds me of the look on her face when she realized how comfortable it was.  I wear it now when I am unreasonably cold, reveling in its warmth.   Red ostrich cowboy boots from Taos, New Mexico, embroidered boots from Santa Fe, and Bainbridge Island, black boots from Paris, and sandals from the Big Island are part of my “Imelda collection.”  (My husband’s designation.)

The oak sideboard holds dishes given to me by my grandmother, and small cut glass dishes I would fill with olives or carrot sticks when I was helping my mother prepare Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners as a child.   Candle sticks I trolled antique stores to find when I was a poor graduate student but wanted to have something special on my dining table are stored in a drawer, pulled out when guests come to dinner.

There is a powerful release of energy when we let go of things that no longer serve us or serve a purpose.  And there is an equally powerful pull for me of things that hold a story.  I can let go of a grudge easier and faster than I can release a pair of loafers I bought in Paris.  I can release old emotional wounds, but I hang onto the leather coat my husband gave me when we lived in Spain.

In a world in which so many don’t have the necessities of life, I feel guilty for the abundance in my life and my “things.”  I know it could all disappear overnight with a natural disaster or accident.   Yet, when I look at a painting and remember the anecdote behind it’s acquisition or put on those red boots, I feel connected to the story of my life.  Each item like a different color of thread stitched into a tapestry.

I can’t answer the question “does this thing bring me joy?”  But I can tell you whether an item has a story to tell.  If I hear the story in my mind, I’m keeping it!