Letting It Go

By: Jeanne Reynolds

When your husband thinks you’re so stressed out you need to go away for the weekend instead of cooking and cleaning for him, you should probably listen.

I don’t deal well with chaos and clutter, and when you’re having the entire inside of your home repainted, you have both. There’s a point — or a couple of weeks — where it gets worse before it gets better. I was at that point late last week.

It’s not just the painter’s gear everywhere and the furniture pushed together in the center of every room, it’s the stuff that has to come out of the large furniture to make it light enough to move. And then of course you can’t just cram it back in later, because it’s the perfect opportunity to sort and reorganize and discard/donate/regift.

I found things in my dining room buffet cabinet I didn’t even know I had. I certainly hadn’t seen or used some of them in 10 years or longer. I clearly didn’t need them, and some I didn’t even like. Why, then, is it so hard to let them go?

These items fall in several categories:

  • Things people gave me that I never really liked or used much. Exhibit A: Two pairs of glass candlesticks received as wedding gifts from a group of co-workers. Lovely, but they hardly fit my lifestyle, plus I don’t even remember the names of any of the givers.
  • Things I once liked but my tastes, needs or decor have changed. Exhibit B: A peach-colored tablecloth with lace overlay. A hand-me-down from my mother that I used a few times but peach doesn’t do it for me these days.
  • Things that are perfectly good — in some cases still new — but I just don’t need them and never have. Exhibit C: Multiple sets of crystal tumblers.
  • Things I love that I might not use much, but when I need them, I need them, and just looking at them makes me smile. Exhibit D: A few silver serving pieces and a large Waterford crystal vase.
  • Things I don’t use but have strong emotional ties to. Exhibit E: My grandmother’s green glass butter dish with domed cover. It was the one thing she told me she wanted me to have as she lay dying in the hospital. I mean, c’mon.
  • Things I like and use all the time: Exhibit F: A set of woven cotton placemats and napkins. Yes, my husband and I actually have dinner once or twice a week in the dining room with cloth napkins!

The items in the last three categories were easy decisions. It was the first three that caused the most mental anguish — and there were lots more of them than the others. What if I suddenly need one of those faded green napkins? Isn’t that crystal decanter too good to give away? And shouldn’t I save that old blue tablecloth for picnics? I was riddled with doubt and indecision as I packed up each item, whether for donation to a charity thrift store or to pass along to a friend or family member who will love it anew.

I know I’m not alone in this, hence the dozens of books and magazines telling us how to simplify our lives and declutter — not to mention the proliferation of self-storage businesses on seemingly every street corner.

I think what the problem really comes down to is not discarding the items but feeling like I’m discarding the people I associate with them. That’s what’s hard to separate. But really, if a family relationship depends on whether I hang onto some old china and linen, then I have bigger problems than a crowded cabinet.

Now, can I interest you in a set of vintage Stetson china dinner plates?

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