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Business Casual: Dealing with Accumulated Stuff

There comes a point in every house-moving process when you just plain hit a wall. Mine occurred on a Tuesday morning late in the summer while I was surrounded by things that needed packing and boxes to pack them in, and I suddenly ran out of gas. Couldn’t get started.

My solution was to lie on the sofa with a cat on my lap and read a nice English mystery for an hour until I felt able to get on with it.

I had actually thought I was home free, having survived a healthy-grain crisis in the kitchen: I stood for a good five minutes holding a half-full bag of quinoa and trying to decide whether to pack it or toss it. It seemed like a crucial decision, since I hate to waste food; but I took a deep breath and tossed it. It didn’t hurt a bit, so I moved on to the stale grits, old rice and brown sugar.

Oddly, I had pretty much made my peace with shedding furniture and assorted knickknacks that would not fit into my new, smaller quarters.

An early-in-the-process epiphany helped. I was trying to re-hang a very heavy mirror, preparing to “stage” my old house, when it occurred to me that I didn’t actually love the mirror. I didn’t hate it; but it had served its purpose, and I was ready to let it go. So I did.

It’s amazing, the stuff you collect. There is some sort of spatial application of Parkinson’s Law – the one that says that work expands to fill the time available; so does stuff – if you have four bedrooms, you’ll have four bedrooms’ worth of stuff; if you have eight closets, they will all be full.

There were a few instances in my move where sentiment won out over practicality: a small chest of drawers that my mom had inherited from her grandmother stayed, despite the fact that it is just an old piece of furniture, somewhat worse for wear. A long table I remember from my New York grandmother’s apartment is making the trip with me to the new place; so is a cool roll-top desk that my husband and I bought for our first Atlanta home together.

And then there were the books: Oh, lord, the books. The literary litmus test I used was two-fold: Does this mean something to me, and am I likely to read it again?

I was able to pass along a few things to family members or friends. My grandson now sleeps in a bed that has lived with me in three different states; good pals provided new homes for a couple of bookcases; and an old colleague with a son furnishing his first post-college apartment was happy to acquire a pair of love seats.

I found that logistics pretty soon trumped everything else, especially in the later stages of preparing for the move. It became a matter of getting rid of things I couldn’t use or didn’t need – quickly.

When the nice big Atlanta Mission truck rolled up the driveway one morning, I had a smile on my face; and when it rolled back down a little while later carrying an assortment of furniture and household items, my smile was even bigger.

When it came to the random things to be dealt with – lamps, baskets, pillows, hard-boiled-egg slicer – the best advice came from an old friend who had recently downsized and told me to “turn off your Depression-era mama saying ‘you might need that,’” because you probably won’t.

I haven’t found anyone who doesn’t share the notion that we all have too much stuff and that it’s easier to stash it in the basement than to figure out what to do with it – whether “it” is a collection of twist ties or the good china our kids don’t want. Millennials seem to be better at sorting all this out than the generations that preceded them, but even they have a soft spot for old record albums and family pet photos.

Dealing with the stuff we accumulate is hard work. People on the other side of the sorting and distributing that comes with a move have described the process as cleansing or liberating. I’m not quite there – I’m just tired.

I don’t miss the scratched coffee table or the yellow placemats; but I wouldn’t mind a nice bowl of quinoa for dinner.

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