Really this story goes way back, back to my early teens when frustrated with my situation, I went to my Mom for a solution to my messy room. Back then I’d never heard of anything like minimalism, the idea of living with less, but certainly heard more on the subject of organizing your junk. So that’s what my Mom and I tried to do. It was a start in the right direction but without truly understanding the concept behind why we had some much stuff, we were doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Looking back I recall watching my Mom spend a lifetime rearranging, organizing, downsizing but never really truly minimizing. The desire was there and I’m so glad it was because it lead me to be able to accomplish what I never thought I would have the strength to do-minimize my Mom’s belongings without her.
Flash-forward a few years from the first time my Mom and I embarked on organizing and I’m back to being a complete mess in my room and have also began to hoard things, movie ticket stubs, old mail, old toys, stained clothes or clothes that didn’t fit just in case it did again some day. I’d cry if my Mom threatened to give something away. If I saw anything from childhood in the garage I’d find a way to sneak it back into the house. Eventually, my Mom wouldn’t even let me go in there for fear I’d stuff the whole house with the past.
Oddly enough, just this year, a couple of months before my Mom died, knowing that I would be moving out of San Francisco and also fresh from watching Minimalism the documentary, I decided to get ride of some stuff.
When it comes to action for me, I tend to do things to the extreme so after a glass of wine and fueled by an intense desire to start fresh, I purged. I even went as far as to, unknowingly, through out my college diploma. I also, knowingly, throughout a cardboard frame for my college photo that my Mom and other people at my graduation party had signed. It was difficult to do but I kept asking myself, Do I really need this? Where will I put it while I’m gone? Will I put it up someday in my home? It was a tough decision but I knew if I waffled like this on every tiny thing, I wouldn’t really be accomplishing much. And I didn’t need that cardboard signature of my Mom’s when I had her just across the bay.
Today, and a few days after throwing out that signed frame I have felt regretful. But when I stop to think about it, I realize that I’m just sad to lose my Mom. It made me think back to my attachment to things like movie ticket stubs and tickets from baseball games. Was it really the faded and bent cardboard paper that I wanted and needed to keep close to my heart and pinned and covered in dust on a cork board above my desk? Or was it the people I went to those movies and games with? Was it the experience I waned to hold? Of course the answer was yes, that was easy.
The harder part was deciding how to hold those memories without holding things as place markers for those memories. What can we do and why is it easier to hold on to a thing as a reminder instead of saying to the person you experienced it with, “I love you! I had a wonderful time. I’ll never forget it. Please, let’s do it again. ”
In the book The More of Less, the author discusses a few different items that people tend to have a lot of. My Mom and I are no different in this department. Although, it may have been easier for me to give away things of hers as I don’t have as much of a sentimental attachment. Or is it? I may now have a sentimental attachment to meaningless things of hers because she’s gone and I want to have something of hers to remember her by. But sitting on her bedroom floor surrounded by her things I realize that the memories are so much better.
Here are some of the items listed people seem to have a lot of:
- Papers-And boy does my Mom have them. I can’t talk, I do too. I threw out a stretched out envelope full of receipts from who knows when for purchasing I don’t know what. Further proof that things don’t always stick around…
- Books-It was easier for me to donate my Mom’s books than mine. I’ve done several ’rounds’ of donations as I like to call them because sometimes you aren’t ready to give something away the first time around. It’s also easier these days because there are nooks and other electronic reading devices to store stories on.
- Clothes-My Mom did have a lot of clothes but more like several pairs of one thing she liked that she liked to wear like long-sleeved T-shirts, cotton shirts, beautiful vests, earth-toned tops and brightly colored and white T-shirts. We’re pretty similar in this department. I still can’t bring myself to give away one of my brown Banana Republic sweaters even though I have four and barely wear one. But some people actually need a certain amount of clothes for work and other lifestyle reasons. Still, I think most people have too much in their closet. Check out project 333 to see what people learn from wearing just 33 items for three months.
- Momentos-This includes anything that conjure up a memory-a baseball ticket, my Mom had plenty of those, letters, cards, notes and post cards from Spain.
- Photos-My Mom had so many courtesy of me and other family members as well, that I couldn’t even get to them. When I do, I know I’ll have a good system; if there are repeat photos or photos of people we don’t know, they get tossed. If we adore them, we pick a frame album, or scan them and toss them.
So how did my Mom and I end up with so much stuff anyway? I believe my Mom was a good person with good intentions- and so am I. It just goes to show that anyone can end up with too much stuff. When I think back on my life and my relationship with my Mom I realize something about my her specifically and things- as a single mother she always wanted to make sure that my Sister and I had enough. I think in an effort to do this she ended up with a lot of things. Extras of things, just in case.
Don’t get me wrong, if you knew my Mom she wasn’t what you would call materialistic. I think this is important to note because most people think of those who have a lot of stuff as people who flaunt things and make extraordinary purchases. She never really did that, that wasn’t the Mom I knew. But I did know the Mom that had hundreds of pens and post-it notes, mints, pairs of reading glasses and a box full of old magnets my sister and I had gifted her from over the years.
She also spoiled my Sister and I buying us whatever was on our Christmas and birthday lists and then some. So it’s not just her stuff. And that’s OK. Everyone has their ‘stuff.’ What I’m trying to accomplish is to see the similarities in myself in order to learn and improve my life and to share this with others in the hopes of improving theirs.
Purging my Mom’s stuff felt weirdly good. As hard as it was to do, I knew is was an important part of my healing process. It feels good to know her stuff will be used by others and my sister and I. It made me realize that it’s all just stuff-meaningless. Time spent is better, so much better, than stuff. What’s the point of working to the bone just to acquire stuff?
Theres a sense of freedom that comes from letting go. Maybe because letting go of the old and unused is a weight lifted making more room for the new to come in. Shedding old things is like shedding old habits and behavior and the realization that stuff isn’t what really matters because it doesn’t fill my heart makes me appreciate and love the things I do have so much more. This realization was fitting for the time as I was embarking on going through my Mom’s lifelong belongings.
Something else I noticed while doing my own minimizing over the last couple of months was just how much money I must have spent on all of this stuff. Relating this to my financial stress that I’ve had on and off throughout my life I can see where it’s a total win-win to not only reduce your amount of stuff but to keep it this way. AKA, not buy more stuff. Therein lies the difficulty for some. Because it’s all well and good to empty out your nest but not if you’re just going to run out and refill it. Aside from something you put good money into that is a quality products which you use daily and it brings joy to your life. Refer to The More of Less to make decisions about what to keep and use my tips below.
Tips for minimizing-
- Always give from a place of love-This is a great way to look at donating your things when you’re finding it hard to let go. Always remember that someone else will be using your item which would otherwise go unused in your home. It’s really a gift that you are sharing it with the world.
- Take pics if it really means that much to you and is hard to let go like with my signed frame. You can do with letters, cards even clothes so you’ll always have a reminder although a pic of you in clothes might be even better. You can also scan things and upload them to iCloud, Google docs or an online photo album service like Shutterfly.
- Reconnect with friends & family by writing a letter if you are feeling that it’s really hard to let go. Sometimes, and most of the time, it’s not even the stuff that you are wanting to hold on to, it’s the memories and the people with whom you shared those memories that you don’t want to let go. Try reconnecting with these people and work on nurturing these relationships as opposed to hanging on to old items that remind you of them. The reality is always better than the place marker.
- Try Project 33-I mentioned this project earlier that challenges you to pick 33 times in your wardrobe to wear for 3 months to see what you really wear and love.
- Turn your hanger over-Try turning all your clothes one way. When you wear an item and return it, turn the hanger indicating that it’s been worn. At the end of the month see what wasn’t turned over. Consider donating because if you didn’t wear it in 30 days, you might not really like it.
- Ask yourself- Do you really, really love it? Does it make you life better? Does it make an impact on your life? Do you use it everyday?
- Don’t Throw Out Other People’s Stuff-As tempting as it may be to toss someone else’s belongings in the midst of your newfound minimalism, it’s better to lead by example. I learned this the hard way and then some after repeatedly putting my boyfriend Mando’s things in my ‘pile’ to be donated or sold. (He really loved those elephant pants, apparently; oops.). My way of thinking was that if I was minimizing and he thought it was a good idea, then he should as well. It didn’t go over well the first, second, third or fourth time, did we make it to a fifth? I have finally realized not to do it. Which brings me to my next point…once you rid it becomes addicting so….
- Make Sure you don’t give away things you still need and use everyday! Mando and I got a little carried away making space on his computer that we both erased some pictures and a downloaded cookbook that we both still got enjoyment and use out of.
- Feng Shui-You can apply this ancient Asian practice to your home more thoroughly or apartment to as much degree as you’d like. Has ideas like clearing negative energies with a sage stick.
- Make Money-See what value your things have before you toss it or give it away incase it’s worth selling. BUUUT…
- Don’t Hang On To Things Because You Think You Can Make Money From It. Be honest with yourself, some things just aren’t worth selling so donate them and don’t waste your time.
- Trade, Donate With Friends-One of the best ways to get rid of your stuff is to offer it to friends and loved ones. You can even trade for something that you might need or really like. Win-win.
- Take A Photo Of Things You Want To Remember But Also Give Away Or Toss-One of the reasons I didn’t feel too bad about getting rid of things that held memories for me was because I made sure to take pictures of things I wanted to remember like my college gradation frame I mentioned above.
The day I went to clean out my Mom’s room, over the course of about 6 hours, I minimized it from a full closet to a quarter of a closet or less with my old brownie uniform I can’t part with just yet, a mink coat of my grandmothers for my Sister, a beautiful poncho of my Mom’s and some cozy shoes I insisted Al take. By the end, the only thing I didn’t get to was under her bed or through family photos which there are plenty of.
In the morning when I woke up I journaled my feelings. My goals for the day, what I hoped to achieve and the fact that this was all a healing process, it would be sad and simultaneously enjoyable and that’s ok. My to-do list is laughable now but it was..
- Clean out, minimize, donate and recycle and decide what to keep, take them with me give to Al (Mom’s room)
- Garage-go through what’s mine and begin to go through what’s Mom’s and decide what to keep, throw away, donate and sell
I only got to her room but I’m not beating myself up about it. It was a long emotional process but I prepped with a salad jar, smoothie and some kombucha. I think it’s important to have the things you need especially in an emotional situation. And good things because I didn’t take many breaks during the day and it was really nice to have these.
Poppy, my Mom’s dog, was there to not help and lay around like a lazy bum. Maybe she was sad. She mostly waited at the window for something, anything. Maybe my Mom to come home. I whispered in her hear that I was waiting too.
My Sister popped in every once in a while to look over some things, laugh and reminisce. She decided on some things she wanted for herself and we discussed further plans to clean the garage out. It’s all so ironic but fitting because the last time I was with my Mom we talked about cleaning out the garage. I know it’s something she wanted and needed to do. Although I’m sad that I can’t give her the gift of doing it while she was alive, I know she’d be happy that we are doing it now.
Among the things I found among my Mom’s things were letters and journals, some I read, some I let be; I’m not sure I need to know everything. I found endless amount of cards from Allison and I. I’m so glad to have some of them but was once again reminded of our carbon footprint and its impact. I must have thrown out over five garbage bags of things. I also had about ten donation bags that I had to drive back to the city with because when I went to drop them off at Goodwill for donation, they were closed.
In the process of deciding what to keep, I tried to be very diplomatic about things but also enjoy the moment for what it was. I was saying goodbye to my Mom while also helping keep her memory alive in the best of what she loved and treasured.
Some of my favorite things that I kept of hers are two rings that my Dad gave her. Allison has her other two. A guitar pin that I have yet to find out the story about but am sure I soon will. A pin that says, ‘I’m neat.’ It looks pretty old, I love it. I kept some of her tops, pants, old red gloves that I remember her wearing years back. I’d always steal them. I also kept a spool of yarn from my grandmother’s sewing machine, some of my favorite magnets I gave her and schoolwork she kept. I know that some of it I will throw away but I wanted to take pictures of some or just look over them one more time.
When I was done for the day, I sagged her room and cried a bit. I asked the angel of air to clear it and cleanse it and allow her spirit to be free. I’ve done this before and it’s a practice I like that makes the whole process feel more spiritual and makes me feel more connected to my Mom.
Today, I can’t necessarily call myself a minimalist. I would still have a long way to go if that were my goal. But it’s learning the basics of living with less has helped when a time in my life when I needed it the most. I know that throughout my life they will continue to serve me as I journey my nomadic adventures.
Minimalism; A Documentary About the Important Things (it’s also a book which I have not read)
“The More Of Less, Finding The Life You Want Under Everything You Own,” by Joshua Becker
The Minimalists blog