Last year after reading Marie Kondo’s short book on the Joy of Tidying Up I set out to get rid of a lot of stuff. I didn’t do so well.
We were living in a small house then. The little house on the Ausable River in Jay, NY. We had filled it up, every inch of it, and I felt as if the stuff was starting to cut off some of the air.
I got a start at cleaning and decluttering in the beginning of 2015, but I didn’t get nearly as far as I would have liked. Then over the summer we moved and I got rid of some odds and ends during the packing.
We moved into a huge house, an old Victorian mansion with more rooms than we know what to do with. Some things are still unpacked in boxes in those extra rooms, and yet the parts of the house we do live in are already overflowing with stuff. Some of it is stuff we brought with us. Other stuff has been acquired since our arrival.
Today, the day after Christmas, we started cleaning, and it struck me again how much stuff we have, and how even in this home that is way too big for us, even here the stuff is piling up again to the point that it seems almost to cut off some of the air.
And yet! this morning we went forth to get and bring home more stuff.
As we cleaned and sorted through the piles I realized (not for the first time) that at least part of the reason it’s so hard (at least for me) to get rid of stuff is that I think surely I’ll need this thing some day. After all, it’s a perfectly good whatever-it-is, and wouldn’t getting rid of it be a waste?
But the truth is the waste happens not at the moment it finally goes into the trash. The waste happens at the moment of purchase. The mistake is not the throwing away. The mistake is the acquiring in the first place.
For example, I have a box under my desk — two boxes, actually — filled with pens and pencils. There are 300 pens and pencils in those boxes. There is no way in my whole life that I’m going to use those 300 pens and pencils. There is nothing wrong with them. There may be 3 or 4 pens in the collection that have dried out. But they’re taking up space around my desk, and they’re a waste. Not because they’re going to go into a landfill later this week. They were a waste from the moment I brought them home and they started taking up space in my mental landscape.
It’s not just pens. It’s cords to devices long since broken. It’s those unused devices sitting around collecting dust. It’s 5-year old tubes of aftershave lotion looking back at me out of the medicine cabinet. It’s bags of miscellaneous old screws and nails and extra bits and pieces from the assembly of shelves we don’t have in homes we no longer live in. And on and on it goes.
Now that Christmas — that time of great acquiring — is past, perhaps with the approach of a new year this can become the great time of dis-quiring.
Or, perhaps, I’ve finally gone off the cliff into a land of delusion.
Time will tell.