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Some things, you just decide to keep

I woke up this morning realizing that I haven't decluttered an area for a couple of weeks. All of my rooms are clear, and almost all the remaining clutter is behind cupboard doors. Project Empty is getting down to the real fossil record of my life now.

In a high cupboard, way back in the dark, I found a box of childhood treasures, among them an ancient sprig of forget-me-nots pressed in a fold of paper. Forget-me-nots have always been my favorite flower.

I don't remember when or why I saved this particular specimen, but I know that it spent a long time among the pages of Hamlet in my Complete Works of Shakespeare before I moved it to this treasure box, and that it's at least 42 years old. It once symbolized something to me--I remember that. But somewhere along the line the actual meaning got lost, and so the pressed flower is just a memory of a memory.

A lot of my clutter is like that. Over and over again, I've encountered the fear that getting rid of the thing will dissolve the memory or negate the relationship or sever me from my ancestors, as if any of those things were really possible.

So, standing on a step-stool and rooting deep in the luggage shelf above my closet today, I first took out, then put back, then took out again, a host of little treasures that must have once really pleased me, stored in little boxes--wooden, silver, brass--that are treasures in themselves. It didn't take long for me to feel overwhelmed and sad, so I stopped.

I left the forget-me-nots for another day. After all, they don't really take up any space.

Green dots are cleared.

The forget-me-nots were--and still are--in one of those wooden boxes on the right:

Bedside table left:

Bedside table right. Decluttering will never be complete till we have wireless electricity...

The Project Empty tally now stands at 55 areas cleared and 24 more to go. And I've lost 13 pounds.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 30th, 2008 05:27 am (UTC)
wow! this is really cool! you're still getting things done :)

my project has slowed down a bit. it seems like i haven't made much progress even though i have. just going through all the junk take so much time 'cause i have to make sure i don't throw away important things - like my car's title. found it! now, it's in an accordion binder with all the other car related receipts. :)

i definitely will be keeping keepsakes. things, like you mention, that i'm not absolutely sure why i kept but totally make me feel sentimental. i'm sure with all the rest of the mess gone, there will be room for a box or 2 of memories.
Mar. 30th, 2008 05:43 am (UTC)
Whoops. I meant to say, congrats on the progress so far!
Mar. 30th, 2008 05:46 am (UTC)
I learned this important lesson from serenity_valley, who has an agreement with her husband. If, in clearing out, there's something either one of them isn't prepared to get rid of, no matter how seemingly useless, they will find a place for it, no questions asked.

Then, in the next decluttering go-round, it can be reconsidered.

Decluttering is an incredibly powerful thing to do. I've learned--the hard way in some instances--that you get ready to jettison stuff in your own time, and that pushing yourself too far can be pretty traumatic.

I've certainly found that there's plenty of room to keep the things I want to hang onto now that I've gotten rid of the things I didn't.

Are you taking pictures? Some of the before pictures I took that seemed the dumbest to me--notably the insides of cupboards--turned out to be the most satisfying when the "after" picture came.
Mar. 30th, 2008 06:25 pm (UTC)
I know you said I'd provided an important piece of the puzzle when I told you that, but I didn't realize just how deeply it impacted you. And has come so timely for you with this post about childhood mementos.

In the interest of easing the difficulty of what you tackled yesterday, and possibly give you a chuckle, I'll share one of my "couldn't get rid of it, candidate for the next decluttering" items.

Safely stored in a Rubbermaid container with other mementos, I have an unused small-size pizza box from Papa John's. It contains only one thing: a 6"x9" piece of paper.

About 10 years ago, I was laid up with a broken ankle and S was working 12 hour shifts as a manager at Papa John's. I was struggling through 22(!) credit hours at the University, we had one car running and the other in need of repair we couldn't afford, and no groceries in the house because he didn't have time to go shopping and I had no way to get anywhere without help. And because he had to pay bills that day, he had the checkbook with him (we had no debit cards and only one checkbook). It was winter, ground covered in ice and feet of snow, and our apartment was on the second floor, which mean getting around for me was incredibly difficult on a good day. Oh, and I hated Papa John's pizza.

So I get home from an exam that fried my brain, having caught a ride with one of my friends and navigated the treacherous descent from the College of Engineering to my friend's car about 4 blocks away and then from his car up the rickety stairs to my apartment. I'm pretty sure I screwed up the test, have at least 24 hours of homework ahead of me for the weekend, I haven't seen S for two days because of our insane schedules, I'm exhausted, in pain, worried about money, and hungry. You could say I was a tad...uh, emotionally unreasonably at this point.

I call him at work -- in the middle of the Friday night dinner shift on the night of a big UW football game when every pizza place in Laramie is swamped by orders -- in tears, saying there's no food in the house, I have no way to get any, and no way to pay for it. He is...less than empathetic. He offers to send me a pizza from work, I grump that I HATE pizza from Papa John's and what I really want is pizza from Pizza Hut. He says I must not be very hungry if I can still be so choosy. I say goodbye in a fit of childish drama and that's the end of that. I sit on the couch and sob thinking that Nobody Likes Me, Everyone Hates Me, Guess I'll Go Eat Worms, and then I'll die from food poisoning AND THEN THEY'LL BE SORRY.

Thirty minutes later, doorbell rings. It's one of the delivery guys from Papa John's. He has a small-size pizza box, which he hands to me and says, "I was tipped 10 bucks to deliver this to you." He smiles and leaves.

I stand in the doorway sobbing like an idiot. Inside is the checkbook and a note of apology and reminder that he loves me, scribbled on a 6x9 piece of notebook paper.

I don't know that I'll ever be able to pitch that pizza box.
Mar. 30th, 2008 07:00 pm (UTC)
Best story ever.

::wipes a little tear::

Ten years wouldn't begin to be enough time to keep that pizza box. Thanks for the great story.
Mar. 30th, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)
You are making such great headway! I was just in that room and I didn't notice any of the clutter you just took pictures of. Yep, you are down to the less obvious stuff and really rooting around in the memories. The forget-me-not's are such a great example of memories lost but you still want to be reminded that you had a past, a happy childhood or young adult experience, even if you can't remember the exact details anymore. Sometimes the story isn't the important part, it's the feelings associated with the symbols we have chosen to save. And, like you say, now that the un-needed and wanted stuff is gone you have room to keep some of the warm fuzzy memories. Great work!
Mar. 30th, 2008 05:24 pm (UTC)
Believe it or not, the connection between the name "forget-me-not" and actual memories didn't even cross my mind. Thanks for pointing it out.

And you're so, so right about the feelings being more important than the story. After all, that truth is at the foundation of everything we're working on! Those little pressed flowers do seem to represent a feeling of innocent happiness. That's worth hanging onto.
Mar. 30th, 2008 05:32 pm (UTC)
It might even be fun to come up with a way to display them for awhile. Maybe when you find that perfect cabinet for the bead work? The pressed flowers glued to a nice hand-made paper as a wall display might be nice too. Maybe a caligraphy printed statement about sweet memories or innocent happiness. Could be very nice.
Mar. 30th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
That's a lovely idea!

Sadly, these 42-year-old forget-me-nots would almost certainly turn to dust if I tried to lift them from their fold of paper.

In a way, these kinds of possessions are like shrines, aren't they? Little sacred places in the mundane world of our houses and our lives. Every once in a while we stop and notice them, and make some kind of connection to our spirit, our past, and our ancestors. It's just the way household shrines are supposed to work.

How much difference, really, is there between a lighted cabinet of collectibles and a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with an electric candle in front of it?
Apr. 1st, 2008 06:08 am (UTC)
How awesome! Everything is really looking great! And a nice weight loss too! Bravo!

I understand how you feel when you look at your little treasures. It can be a very emotional thing to deal with them.
Apr. 1st, 2008 10:22 pm (UTC)
Thanks! It's all feeling pretty good.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )



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