When we’re young, one of the ways we change and establish ourselves as adults is by acquiring things—new apartment, new partner, new housewares, new job, new clothes. Then we start buying furniture to store it all: bookcases, credenzas, hutches, chests. Finally we add a house with a lot more storage space in closets, the basement (my personal bête noir), the garage and an attic. Stuff gets stored, then pushed to the bottom, then shoved to the back, then forgotten.
When museums sell unwanted works of art, whether it’s to raise money or to open gallery space for other acquisitions, they call it deaccessioning. That’s a euphemism for selling it but donors and members get bent out of shape when something goes out the door and, gee, “sold” is such a tacky word. When ordinary folks start this process, we first, ideally, deaccession the children. They go away to school, move out, get married, change jobs, whatever it takes to set themselves up as adults separate from their parental units. Next, we go after things.
I began experiencing this when we started cleaning out our Sudbury house in preparation for its upcoming sale. Boxes of housewares and bags of clothes went to Goodwill and the Epilepsy Foundation. I lost count of the books that we took to Bearly Read Books, Annie’s Book Swap and the Sudbury Library. Around this time last year, we dropped 12 supermarket bags of books at the library for their annual book sale in April—and that was just one run.
We have been in deaccessioning mode for nearly three years now and we have both gotten more ruthless as we go on. Sentimental value has dwindled in importance. Yes? No? Chuck it!
In weekly trips to our daughter’s new house, I unloaded of all the boxes of her things that she had been storing in our basement for 20 years, some of it since middle school. The boxes were faded and dusty and occasionally dispensed mummified spiders. Then I watched her throw most of it out—which she could have done a long time ago.
I gave things to friends, to service vendors, to movers, to our home cleaning crew, to anyone who would take them. Things came out of the basement that I thought I had gotten rid of years ago, like bears emerging sleepy-eyed from a long dark hibernation. “Oh, there you are! I didn’t realize you were still here.” I came to appreciate empty space over boxes of stuff and every square foot of the floor I opened up was a triumph. Still, despite years of work, we ran out of time and we ended up moving things we didn’t want because we had to just get them out of the house. We moved into our downsized condo last month and are still getting rid of stuff.
As reported in an earlier post, the moving process separated us from even more things as box after box revealed broken china, glass and crockery. Some of it I mourned but, for much of it, I felt like Arlo and Janis—woo-hoo! It’s gone: I never have to look at it, dust it, wash it, or pack it ever again.