Stuff

If it can be said that I have a new year’s resolution, it’s that I’m going to deal with all this stuff.

Several years ago, after a breakup, I undertook what I now think of as The Great Purging. It started, oddly enough, with the absence of stuff. When he left, he left all of these little holes. Holes in the bookcases where his books had been. Holes in the closet, the CD rack, the DVD collection. Day after day, these holes mocked me. They were the physical embodiment of how I felt: Incomplete. Discarded.

One day, I decided to at least fill the holes in the shelves. Filling the holes in myself would take more time, but it was really kind of pathetic to come home and stare at half a household. So I went about unstuffing, spreading, rearranging my stuff to fill the extra space.

It felt good. He’d had a lot of stuff. Especially for someone who had spent the past several years living in a dorm room. Really, just an unbelievable amount of stuff. What he moved into my apartment wasn’t even all of it — the rest was in storage back in his hometown. This was just the stuff he couldn’t live without. I had to get rid of a bunch of my stuff to make room for his. At the time, I kind of resented it; what made his stuff better than mine? But he talked me into it, and I told myself he was right, that I didn’t use the stuff and wouldn’t miss it.

As I spread my now-reduced stuff across shelves and drawers, I realized he was right. I didn’t miss that stuff. And it was really kind of cool to have all this extra space for my remaining stuff. I could organize it — I mean truly, fussily, “only things belonging to the category of XYZ will go in this drawer” OCD levels of organization. I sorted my underwear by color.

This took up a fair amount of my empty hours. And in those hours, I knew peace once more. I had a purpose. But eventually I finished. I looked around my now-organized stuff and thought “Now what?”

And realized that, while it was nice, it could be better. Cleaner. Simpler. More photogenic.

So it began.

In the effort to streamline my possessions, to perfect my organization, I called into question the usefulness of every object I owned. Nothing was safe. I got rid of my shower mat, which I enjoyed standing on but hated washing; every few weeks the washer would chew it up, necessitating the purchase of a new mat. So I tossed it. And realized I didn’t even miss it. In fact, not having one was nicer; it simplified cleaning the tub, which brought me more joy than standing on a foam cushion while I washed my hair.

Inspired, I tried showering without putting down the bathroom rug first. Turns out that does serve a purpose; upon exiting the shower, I nearly did the splits. The rug returned to its rightful place.

My clothes. I had two closets full of clothes, but wore the same 5-7 outfits week in and week out. So I went through my wardrobe with a ruthless eye; everything that didn’t make me feel gorgeous went into a bag for Goodwill. Socks, underwear, and bras were streamlined to neutral colors only; I tossed the worn and donated the merely colorful. Shoes were subjected to the same scrutiny. When I was finished, I could fit my entire wardrobe, summer and winter, into one closet. With space to spare. It was lovely; for the first time, I could easily locate every article of clothing I owned. Hangers slid freely, and clothing hung straight — no wrinkles. For the first time in my life, I was the kind of woman whose bra and underwear matched every single day. It was oddly transformative.

My books. My books were sacred. I had four 5-shelf bookcases and two 3-shelf bookcases crammed to the gills with books — many shelves were not merely double stacked, but quadruple stacked. (I read, okay?) I never, ever got rid of a book. But to be fair, I do reread books — quite frequently, in fact. Still…did I reread all of them? Did I even like all of them? I reviewed my collection critically, and began bagging up the books I didn’t enjoy. Then the ones I’d enjoyed once, but would never reread. The college textbooks I’d not touched in ten years. The duplicate Norton anthologies (my ex-husband was also an English major, and for some reason I’d ended up with his Nortons). The books I’d outgrown. When I was finished weeding, I was able to get rid of one of the 5-shelf bookcases; the rest held but a single row of books apiece.

I spent an emotional weekend going through the detritus of my teenage years. For reasons I can’t explain, I’d held on to every greeting card, every note, every photo I’d ever taken or been given. I didn’t recognize the names or faces on most of them. Out they went. Along with mementos like the ponytail one boyfriend cut off before joining the Army reserves. (A boyfriend I had dumped — not the other way around. Yeah. I kept his hair. Why? Got me.) And what seemed like every cigarette lighter I’d ever had in high school. I filled two trash bags with the stuff I threw out. The lawn and garden kind.

Months passed, and finally I had my space just as I wanted it. In that time, I’d not only healed, I’d moved on. Met the man I’d end up committing to for the long haul. We fell in love, moved in together, had a baby, upgraded to a bigger place. (Not as quickly as I just made it sound. We’re nearing the 10-year mark here.) And slowly but steadily started accumulating more stuff.

We’ve been in this house for three and a half years. When we moved in, we barely had enough stuff to fill the space; the apartment we left behind was about half the size of this house. But somehow, broke as we are, we’ve managed to fill it to overflowing. And since upgrading to a bigger place isn’t an option right now, it’s time to purge again.

Some of it will come easily, in time. Once our son outgrows the baby things, they will be sold or donated; we don’t plan on having another child after this. My wardrobe, which now covers a range of sizes, situations, and pregnancy statuses, can be overhauled once I regain my prepregnancy figure. In a few years, we will be rid of the army of plasticware that has taken over our cabinets and can buy new grown-up dishes once again. And so on.

But for now, I’m drowning in stuff. Again. And am eager to rectify the situation, to whatever degree I can.

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